The state of Indiana and its governor Mike Pence have received substantial criticism over this week for the passage and signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that keeps state and local government from prohibiting individuals and businesses from expressing strongly held religious beliefs. Critics believe that the measure provides cover for discrimination against and denial of service to LGBT individuals in practice, among other concerns. Many individual organizations have spoken out against the measure, including the Indianapolis-headquartered NCAA, which will also hold the Men's Basketball Final Four in the city next weekend. President Mark Emmert clearly expressed his displeasure with the law on Thursday, reiterating its commitment to welcoming all people to its tournaments and events.
The NBA has now joined the NCAA with a statement of its own. In a joint press release issued Saturday, the NBA, Indiana Pacers, WNBA, and Indiana Fever made it clear that they will continue to welcome all manner of paying costumers. Here is the full text:
The following joint statement was issued today by the NBA, WNBA, Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever in regard to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act recently signed into law in Indiana:
“The game of basketball is grounded in long established principles of inclusion and mutual respect. We will continue to ensure that all fans, players and employees feel welcome at all NBA and WNBA events in Indiana and elsewhere.”
Additionally, Pacers and Fever owner Herb Simon stated:
“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.”
While these statements do not explicitly deride the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the implication is that the NBA does not support any attempt to discriminate against certain groups of fans or players. This news should not come as a great shock — the league fully supported veteran big man Jason Collins when he came out as a gay man in April 2013 and has typically been one of the most progressive sports leagues in the United States in terms of supporting LGBT rights. This press release does not represent a new line of thinking for the league and its franchises — it is a continuation of commonly expressed beliefs.
Similarly, the Pacers are not the first NBA team to come out against a bill in the state legislature. The Phoenix Suns and managing partner Robert Sarver opted to wear their "Los Suns" jerseys during the Western Conference Finals in 2010 to support fans and residents in the face of Senate Bill 1070, which encouraged racial profiling in the enforcement of immigration laws.
Hall of Famers and current Turner Sports commentators Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller expressed their own distaste for Indiana's RFRA earlier this week, with the former stating that the Final Four should be moved and the latter, the best player in Pacers history, expressed disappointment in what he still referred to as his "adopted home state."
The NBA and the Pacers will likely see some backlash for their official statement, but, as Yahoo's own Dan Wetzel wrote on Friday, such points of view occupy the fringes of the political spectrum with increasing regularity. While roughly 19 other states have similar laws, governor Jan Brewer vetoed Arizona's version of the bill in 2014 over concerns that it would bring shame upon the state. Perhaps Pence should have done the same.
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