The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Georgia governor vetoes bill that had threatened an Atlanta Super Bowl

(David J. Phillip/AP)

Georgia Gov. Nathan deal vetoed a “religious freedom” bill that would have been a significant roadblock in Atlanta’s hopes of hosting a Super Bowl in the next few years.

Deal said in a statement that the religious exemptions bill protecting same-sex marriage opponents “doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of its people.”

Governor vetoes bill

Atlanta is a strong candidate to get a Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020, with a taxpayer-funded new stadium for the Falcons under construction. However, the NFL sent a clear message that the Super Bowl would be in jeopardy if the bill were signed into law.

“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” the league’s statement said. “Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.”

NFL sends a message about Georgia bill

The new stadium, set to open in 2017, is one of four finalists, along with New Orleans, Tampa and Miami, for the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls. Owners will choose the sites later this year and Arthur Blank, the Falcons’ owner, echoed the NFL’s statement.

“One of my bedrock values is ‘Include Everyone’ and it’s a principle we embrace and strive to live each and every day with my family and our associates, a vast majority of which live and work in Georgia,” Blank said in a statement to the AJC. “I strongly believe a diverse, inclusive and welcoming Georgia is critical to our citizens and the millions of visitors coming to enjoy all that our great state has to offer. House Bill 757 undermines these principles and would have long-lasting negative impact on our state and the people of Georgia.”

The NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and MLB’s Atlanta Braves echoed Blank and the NFL, with other corporations agreeing. The NFL took the same stance two years ago when a similar bill was sent to the governor of Arizona. It was vetoed.

Why the NFL moved the 1990 Super Bowl

A year ago, the NCAA asserted its opposition to a similar law in Indiana, home of the organization and site of the Final Four in 2015. NCAA President Mark Emmert questioned whether the organization would continue to hold events in the state — and whether its headquarters might relocate.

“[After the tournament] we, the NCAA, we’ve got to sit down and say if this environment remains the way it is, what does that mean for us going forward? We hold lots and lots of events,” he said then. “We’re going to have our national convention here, our offices are here. We have to say, ‘What are we going to do if this law goes into effect in July? What’s our relationship with the state of Indiana going to be?’”

A bill intended to clarify the law and to provide protection for LGBT customers, employees and tenants was enacted and signed by the Indiana governor not long afterward.