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NBA, Pacers speak out about Indiana’s controversial religious freedom law

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Although the NFL and Indianapolis Colts have so far been silent on the matter, the NBA and the Indiana Pacers added their voices to those of the NCAA, Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller in speaking out about Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

On Saturday, the league, the Pacers, the WNBA and the Indiana Fever addressed the law, which could make it easier for religious conservatives to refuse service to gay people. The NCAA, with headquarters in the state as well as the Final Four next week, promised to “closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce” in a statement last week. The NBA took a different approach.

“The game of basketball is grounded in long established principles of inclusion and mutual respect,” the leagues and teams said in a joint statement. “We will continue to ensure that all fans, players and employees feel welcome at all NBA and WNBA events in Indiana and elsewhere.”

[Why the backlash against Indiana now?]

Herb Simon, owner of the Pacers and Fever, added:

“The Indiana Pacers, Indiana Fever and Bankers Life Fieldhouse have the strongest possible commitment to inclusion and non-discrimination on any basis. Everyone is always welcome at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That has always been the policy from the very beginning of the Simon family’s involvement and it always will be.”

Although the NFL reportedly had privately considered moving Super Bowl XLIX out of Arizona if it passed a similar measure, a spokesman declined comment about Indiana’s law. Indianapolis has attracted major sporting events over the years, including a Super Bowl and the annual scouting combine, and a spokesman for Gov. Mike Pence said the governor believes it would not legalize discrimination in Indiana. In addition to men’s and women’s Big Ten tournaments over the next few years, the city hopes to land the 2019 Super Bowl. The Final Four is scheduled to return in 2021; the city will host the national gymnastics championships and next year’s diving Olympic team trials.

Since the law was passed last week, there has been a social media storm with calls to #boycottIndiana.

“I just can’t account for the hostility that’s been directed at our state,” Pence said, via the Associated Press. “I’ve been taken aback by the mischaracterizations from outside the state of Indiana about what is in this bill.”

The state will attempt to clarify the law, Pence told the Indianapolis Star’s Tim Swarens. Are gays, lesbians still welcome in Indiana, Swarens asked Pence.

“First, this law is not about discrimination. It’s about protecting religious liberty and giving people full access to the judicial system,” he said. “But, yes, Hoosier hospitality is about making all people feel welcome in our state. We did that with the Super Bowl and with many other events, and with bringing businesses here. We will continue to do that.”

But Mark Emmert of the NCAA, Barkley and Miller, who played pro ball in Indiana, feel differently.

Barkley wants action, with the Final Four tipping off Saturday in Indianapolis.

“Discrimination in any form is unacceptable to me,” Barkley said in a statement sent by his agent to USA Today on Friday. “As long as anti-gay legislation exists in any state, I strongly believe big events such as the Final Four and Super Bowl should not be held in those states’ cities.”