Opinion: NCAA must make states with anti-trans laws pay with loss of championships

Nancy Armour, USA TODAY
·5 min read

Bigotry comes with a price.

All those states that already have or are in the process of trying to ram through legislation that would prohibit transgender girls and young women from playing sports should take note of that letter issued late Monday by the NCAA’s Board of Governors. Its support for transgender athletes, and the science-based criteria that guides their participation, is noteworthy.

But it is the Board of Governor’s warning at the bottom of the letter that should set off alarm bells in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee and more than a dozen other states.

“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected,” the board wrote. “We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”

In other words, keep going down this discriminatory path, and you can kiss goodbye your ability to host Final Fours and earlier rounds of the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, as well as championships for tennis, golf, rowing, cross country and any other number of sports.

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This is no idle threat. After North Carolina passed HB2, the so-called “bathroom bill” that also targeted transgender people, in the spring of 2016, the NCAA yanked its first- and second-round games in the men’s basketball tournament out of Greensboro the next year. (The ACC followed suit, moving its football championship to Orlando.)

South Carolina did not host any predetermined NCAA championship from 2002 until 2015 as punishment for the state’s insistence on flying the Confederate flag above the capitol. When the NCAA and SEC said last June that they would not hold championships in Mississippi so long as the state flag contained a Confederate battle emblem, it took lawmakers less than two weeks to get rid of it.

Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Montana State Capitol protesting proposed anti-transgender legislation.
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Montana State Capitol protesting proposed anti-transgender legislation.

It isn’t just the prestige of hosting these events that’s at stake, either. The men’s Final Four has an economic impact of more than $100 million for the host city, studies have found, while other events generate millions in spending at hotels, restaurants and other local businesses.

And yet, legislators are willing to sacrifice all of it because of their own hate, ignorance and/or political calculation.

Because the bills they’re passing sure aren’t based on any science or facts.

“These bills are illogical, in so many different ways,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday morning. “They know they have no facts, no science, no data to support their legislation. And yet, they’re pushing them anyway.”

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The lawmakers pushing these bills, and the far right-wing groups giving them money to do so, would have you believe that women’s sports are on the verge of being overrun by boys and young men who either can’t compete against their own gender or are looking for opportunities to prey on girls and young women. Aside from being a hateful mischaracterization of transgender people, it simply is not true.

The NCAA has had rules on its books – crafted with the guidance of actual scientists! – since 2011 governing the participation of transgender athletes. And yet, there has been very little impact on women’s sports. Transgender athletes have not “taken over,” nor have cisgender women been shut out of opportunities.

“Transgender people have been participating in sports consistent with their gender identity for decades. This is not new,” David said. “The sky didn’t fall. There’s been no problem.”

Except that right-wing politicians recognize this as an opportunity to open a new front in the culture wars.

These bills, much as previous legislation to block gay marriage and discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community was, are meant to “otherize” transgender people. To turn them into bogeymen who will rally Americans frightened by our changing country to vote.

The politicians will of course take umbrage at this, insisting they are simply trying to “protect” girls and young women. But their hypocrisy is apparent in their indifference to the actual threats to women’s sports and those who participate in them.

I don’t seem to recall Texas legislators registering their collective outrage over the disparities at the women’s basketball tournament, which was held in San Antonio and where two state teams, Texas and Baylor, made deep runs. Nor do I remember lawmakers in South Dakota, Mississippi or Tennessee pressing state schools to ensure they were living up to their Title IX obligations.

The only purpose of these bills is to sow hate and discrimination. Which is why Monday’s statement from the NCAA’s Board of Governors cannot be its last word.

“These are not just hypotheticals. Five states are banning transgender participation in sports. Five,” the HRC’s David said. “We need to do more than just monitor. We need action.”

It’s a waste of time to appeal to the decency of politicians so eager to marginalize transgender youth, but the NCAA can appeal to their egos and pocketbooks. So long as lawmakers are willing to play politics with the lives of these vulnerable kids, the NCAA had better be willing to act and direct millions of dollars into other states.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NCAA must make states with anti-trans laws pay with championships