The NCAA issued a statement Thursday saying it would “closely examine the implications” of a bill signed into law by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence that allows the state’s businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers in the name of “religious freedom.”
“The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events,” NCAA President Mark Emmert wrote in the statement. “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”
The NCAA’s headquarters are in Indianapolis, a city that has hosted the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s Final Four six times and will do so again this year and in 2021. Indianapolis also does big convention business, and on Wednesday the organizers of a mainline Protestant church gathering said they may move events out of the city because of concerns that their members “might experience legally sanctioned bias and rejection once so common on the basis of race.”
That church is not alone, as The Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey has pointed out:
Gen Con, a popular game convention and the city’s largest convention in attendance and economic impact, says it will reconsider Indianapolis as its annual location due to the bill. Last year, its CEO said in a letter, the convention attracted 56,000 and brought $50 million to the city.
On Wednesday night, NCAA senior vice president of championships Mark Lewis told the Indianapolis Star that he had yet to hear from member schools about the new law.
“Nobody has raised it with us, but I’m trying not to send the message that it means everybody (thinks) it’s OK,” Lewis told the Star. “I know this is a hot issue, but nobody has raised it to us yet. I don’t know if that will change.”
The Big Ten Conference also has held a number of events in the city, including its football championship game (four times) and its men’s basketball tournament (nine times, with another scheduled for next season). On Thursday, a Change.org petition was created, asking the conference to move its football championship game out of Indianapolis.
Social issues have created friction between states and pro sports leagues in the past. Super Bowl XXVII originally was scheduled to be held in Tempe, Ariz., in 1993, but in 1991 the National Football League moved the game to Pasadena, Calif., after Arizona failed to enact a holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The holiday eventually was approved by Arizona voters in 1992, and the state has since been the site of the Super Bowl three times.
The LGBT Sports Coalition issued a statement on Thursday afternoon requesting that all major sporting events be moved from Indiana. From the statement
The sports world must now stand united against such blatant discrimination. While we recognize the impossibility of Indiana-based schools and professional sports teams forgoing home games, we believe any sporting events that can be moved outside the state should be moved. To host a major sporting event in the state, with legitimate venues available elsewhere, would put LGBT athletes, coaches, and fans in harm’s way and lend support to the discrimination of LGBT people.
To that end the LGBT Sports Coalition calls on:
• USA Gymnastics to move the 2015 P&G Championship;
• The Big Ten to move its 2015 football conference championship game;
• The NCAA to move the 2016 Women’s Final Four and all future NCAA basketball tournament games away and other organized NCAA sporting events from the state of Indiana;
• The NFL to move the Scouting Combine to a city outside of Indiana;
• USA Diving to move its 2016 Olympic team trials;
We also call for all other national governing bodies to withdraw their special events from the State of Indiana.
The NCAA also has taken a stance on social issues in the past, as the Star points out:
In 2005, it ruled that 19 member schools had mascots that were hostile or abusive and banned those schools from playing host to NCAA championships or using the mascot imagery in NCAA events.