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Anti-discrimination rule jeopardizes NCAA tournament games in North Carolina

The NCAA will require sites hoping to host its events to supply proof of an anti-discriminatory atmosphere. (Jae C. Hong/AP, File)
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The NCAA took the strongest stance yet of any sports organization trying to decide whether to hold games in North Carolina and other states that have enacted so-called “bathroom laws” concerning transgender people.

The organization’s board of governors adopted a rule Wednesday requiring sites that host or bid on NCAA events “demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event,” the NCAA said in a statement. The action is the result of “recent actions of legislatures in several states, which have passed laws allowing residents to refuse to provide services to some people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the NCAA added.

That applies to sites that are scheduled to hold events. Specifically, Greensboro and Charlotte, North Carolina cities set to host first- and second-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in 2017 and 2018, must show that they will provide a discrimination-free zone in their arenas or risk losing the games.

“Currently awarded sites must report how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event,” the organization said a statement provided to ESPN. “The information must be reported to the Board of Governors Ad Hoc Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity, and full implementation is expected during the current bidding process.”

As gay rights battle brewed in Houston, NCAA stayed on the sideline

The anti-discrimination measure was adopted at a quarterly meeting of the board of governors in Indianapolis. The NCAA’s position has far-reaching implications.

In North Carolina, HB2, which was signed into law in March, overturned a Charlotte measure that allowed transgender people to use the restroom that confirms with their gender rather than birth identity. A Mississippi law that will allow government workers, religious groups and some private businesses to cite religious beliefs to deny services to LGBT people goes into effect July 1. North Carolina and Mississippi recently passed laws that allow discrimination against members of the LGBT community and other states are considering them. Some of those states, too, are in line to host games in 2017 and 2018. Lawmakers in Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wisconsin are considering similar measures.

The NCAA was among the forefront of protesters when Indiana passed a law just before the 2015 men’s Final Four in Indianapolis that would allow discrimination against LGBT people based on religious beliefs. The law was modified, but NCAA President Mark Emmert reminded politicians that the organization would “closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

NBA must move All-Star Game if North Carolina law isn’t changed

The NCAA has allowed neutral-site championship events to be held in states in which governments fly the Confederate flag since 2001 and has kept schools that use “abusive or offensive” Native American imagery or mascots from hosting those events.

“The higher education community is a diverse mix of people from different racial, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation backgrounds,” board chairman and Kansas State president Kirk Schulz said in a statement to ESPN. “So it is important that we assure that community … will always enjoy the experience of competing and watching at NCAA championships without concerns of discrimination.”

Already, entertainers Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Boston, Mumford and Sons, Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato, Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil have canceled appearances in North Carolina since the passage of the law. For now, the NBA is monitoring the situation as it considers whether to move next February’s All-Star Game out of Charlotte.

“We’ve been, I think, crystal clear, that a change in the law is necessary to play in the kind of environment that we think is appropriate for a celebratory NBA event, but that we did have some time and if the view of the people who were allied with us, in terms of a change, the view of the people on the ground in North Carolina was that the situation would best be served by us not setting a deadline, then we would not set a deadline at this time,” Commissioner Adam Silver said last week.

Owner Michael Jordan offered a reminder that the Charlotte Hornets have a policy of inclusion.

“As my organization has stated previously, the Charlotte Hornets and Hornets Sports & Entertainment are opposed to discrimination in any form, and we have always sought to provide an inclusive environment,” Jordan, one of the wealthiest people in North Carolina, said in a statement to the Charlotte Observer.

“As has been the case since the building opened, we will continue to ensure that all fans, players and employees feel welcome while at work or attending NBA games and events at Time Warner Cable Arena.”