The NBA has spent much of the spring and early summer engaged in one of the more notable state policy issues of 2016. In February, the North Carolina legislature passed House Bill 2, one of the most sweeping anti-LGBT laws in the nation. Although primarily known for its controversial “bathroom law” that forces transgender people from using the restroom assigned to the gender they were born into rather than the one they have chosen, HB 2 barred the creation of any new laws extending anti-discrimination to the LGBT community and even set limits on changes to the minimum wage. The outcry against HB 2 has been swift and constant, with many corporations that do business in North Carolina making statements against the law and threatening changes to their practices.
The NBA made its move by threatening a change of location for its 2017 All-Star Weekend, set to take place in Charlotte from February 17-19. Although initial statements were somewhat vague, commissioner Adam Silver clarified that the law would have to change to keep the event in North Carolina. The Hornets and owner Michael Jordan have backed that decision.
As our Dan Devine wrote on Tuesday, the NBA has been involved in discussions to put forth new legislation to resolve the controversy. A report from Nick Ochsner of Charlotte CBS affiliate WBTV indicated that those efforts had led to the bill now in front of the legislature, which would allow transgender people to “prove” their new gender.
The NBA and Hornets issued a statement Thursday making it very clear that they do not endorse the new bill:
In response to published reports regarding the NBA’s involvement in amended HB2 legislation currently before the North Carolina legislature, the NBA and Charlotte Hornets issued the following statement:
“We have been engaged in dialogue with numerous groups at the city and state levels, but we do not endorse the version of the bill that we understand is currently before the legislature. We remain committed to our guiding principles of inclusion, mutual respect and equal protections for all. We continue to believe that constructive engagement with all sides is the right path forward. There has been no new decision made regarding the 2017 NBA All-Star Game.”
The statement is not especially surprising, because no one seems to like the proposed changes to HB 2. A report from several Charlotte Observer journalists shows LGBT activists (and anyone who loves someone who’s not straight, really) outraged by the idea that trans people should have to prove their gender, while proponents of HB 2 say the changes are a product of pressure from the NBA and other companies that do not represent citizens of North Carolina. That same report cites a source that claims the NBA would see these changes as a “step in the right direction” regardless, but it’s clear why they would not want to be seen as endorsing them in their current form.
The official statement does not represent a major change in messaging for the NBA and the Hornets. If it proves anything, it’s that the league is unlikely to accept cosmetic changes to HB 2 without a substantial shift in the spirit of the law. The league has built up a meaningful relationship with the LGBT community and made history this weekend by becoming the first professional sports league to march in the New York City Pride Parade. It does not appear that Silver has any interest in squandering that progress to keep the All-Star Game in Charlotte.
It’s certainly a public relations decision to release a statement that denies support for a very unpopular piece of legislation. But this is a case in which those optics match up with the right thing to do.
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