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Amid a national debate over civil rights protections based on sexual orientation, the Indianapolis-based NCAA apparently will reconsider sites already chosen to host its championships — including Indianapolis, the NCAA told The Indianapolis Star.
“We’ll continue to review current events in all cities bidding on NCAA championships and events, as well as cities that have already been named as future host sites, such as Indianapolis,” Bob Williams, NCAA senior vice president for communications, wrote in an email statement Nov. 12.
Requests to speak to NCAA leaders for more information were denied.
Among the Indianapolis events that could be in jeopardy is the NCAA’s richest showcase — the men’s basketball Final Four — slated to return to the city in 2021. The same event held here this year pumped an estimated $71 million into the local economy, according to Visit Indy. Indianapolis also is scheduled to host first- and second-round games in the 2017 men’s basketball tournament.
The NCAA statement about future and scheduled sites comes after Houston voters this month repealed an ordinance that banned discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Indiana is currently in the opening round of a second battle over lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, with Senate Republicans proposing statewide anti-discrimination protections, but with several significant exemptions.
Houston will still host the men’s Final Four next year because “it takes years to plan and implement this world-class event,” Dan Gavitt, vice president of men’s basketball championship, said in a statement. Likewise, the women’s Final Four in Indianapolis will go on as planned in April, the NCAA said.
But the NCAA’s refusal to consent to an interview leaves several questions unanswered:
- Is Indy’s 2021 men’s Final Four at risk because Indiana does not have a law protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination? Where does the NCAA stand on the new rights legislation proposed Tuesday by Indiana Senate Republicans?
- What is the lead time required for the NCAA to reject a tournament site it has already committed to? In 2014, the NCAA approved men’s Final Fours through 2021 in five states, only one of which has LGBT civil-rights protections.
- Will the organization automatically reject future bids from would-be hosts that don’t have LGBT anti-discrimination laws? Could this affect Indianapolis’ special relationship that has brought the men’s Final Four to the city every five years?
In his statement, the NCAA’s Williams wrote, “There are many factors in a thorough bid process that the NCAA considers when determining what cities will host the Final Four, including but not limited to local, city and state laws and ordinances.”
Moving target in Indiana
Seven months ago, the state Legislature passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which some feared would allow businesses to refuse to serve same-sex couples. That came just days before the men’s Final Four was to start at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the NCAA’s president warned that his organization would examine Indiana’s new law “and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”
“The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events,” president Mark Emmert said in a statement then. “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.”
A national uproar ensued over RFRA. Pressed by local business and civic and sports leaders to fix the legislation, GOP lawmakers adopted an amendment that would prevent services from being denied due to sexual orientation in communities with anti-discrimination laws in place. There are about a dozen such communities in Indiana.
After the change was passed, Emmert issued this statement: “We are very pleased the Indiana legislature is taking action to amend Senate Bill 101 so that it is clear individuals cannot be discriminated against. NCAA core values call for an environment that is inclusive and non-discriminatory for our student-athletes, membership, fans, staff and their families.”
Now the debate has started anew in Indiana. Republican lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations statewide.
But exemptions would allow:
- Religious-affiliated adoption agencies to reject prospective same-sex parents.
- Schools, employers and others to determine their own restroom policies for transgender people.
- Businesses with fewer than four employees to refuse wedding services to same-sex couples.
How will the NCAA deal with this new twist?
“That’s something the NCAA is going to have to look at,” said Chris Paulsen, campaign manager of Freedom Indiana, a grass-roots advocacy group that supports LGBT rights. “People vote their conscience with their dollars. Holding events in cities that are welcoming to the LGBT community, it’s a smart business move.”
A note of caution
Others noted that social change takes time.
Allison Melangton, who was CEO of Indy’s Super Bowl Host Committee that brought the 2012 Super Bowl here, doesn’t recall any language in the bidding process that reflected a requirement for anti-discrimination laws.
“Certainly, the NFL would have brought it to our attention if they believed it was an issue in Indiana at the time even though it was not a specification in the bid,” said Melangton, now a vice president at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We bid in 2008 and were held to 2008 standards by the NFL — so that is almost eight years ago and times have changed.”
Since then, the NFL has acted upon the issue. In 2014, Arizona’s legislature passed its own RFRA legislation. The NFL hinted in a statement that if the measure became law, the state could lose the 2015 Super Bowl it was scheduled to host.
Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the measure.
If sports organizations and leagues do start looking at such laws when they make decisions on where to have events, they should not do so rashly, said Richard McGowan, who teaches ethics at Butler University.
Laws aren’t going to change overnight, he said, just as major sporting events can’t be moved overnight.
“Time is a factor and we live in a compressed society, but think about how long Martin Luther King Jr. worked to get civil rights (for African Americans),” he said. “There is a needed sense of patience and working through things with time.”
Sports can help bring about that change, maybe even speed it, said Hudson Taylor, a wrestling coach at Columbia University, a straight activist for LGBT rights and the founder of Athlete Ally, an organization focused on ending homophobia in sports.
“The most impactful moments in history are the ones when social issues and sports intersected,” said Taylor. “When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the playing field. The black power salute at the 1968 Olympics. Those are the moments that change a country.”SHARE THIS STORY