Sports Events Move Out Over North Carolina ‘Bathroom Bill’
First it was the National Basketball Association. Then, the National Collegiate Athletic Association joined in. Now, the Atlantic Coast Conference has followed the other governing bodies in taking punitive action against North Carolina in response to a state law that curbs anti-discrimination protection for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
The ACC, headquartered in Greensboro, N.C., has announced it will move this academic year’s neutral-site championship games to other venues, dealing what is certain to be a large-scale loss of revenue and prestige for a state that thrives on its status as a top-tier destination for college athletics. The ACC’s decision follows closely the NCAA’s announcement that it will move this year’s championship games out of North Carolina. Earlier, the NBA announced that it would play its 2017 All-Star Game in New Orleans, rather than Charlotte, N.C., as previously planned, in reaction to the “bathroom bill” that has touched off wide-ranging and emotional debate.
The ACC’s decision finishes what the NCAA started, virtually cleaning the slate of all title games that were to be decided in the Tar Heel State. Of significance in the ACC decision are the removal of the conference’s football title game in December and the women’s basketball tournament in March. On the NCAA side, six games in the Division I men’s basketball tournament had been scheduled for North Carolina.
Six other championships, including those for men’s golf, baseball, and men’s and women’s swimming and diving, will remain at in-state venues. In addition, championships hosted by specific universities, such as the men’s and women’s cross-country championships at North Carolina State, also are not affected.
With a strike at the heart of the state’s cultural and entertainment livelihood, the ACC has weighed in on the contentious debate over North Carolina House Bill 2 (H.B. 2). The law invalidated municipal ordinances that establish anti-discrimination protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals. The law also requires that, when in publicly owned buildings, people use the restroom that corresponds with the gender listed on their birth certificates.
While criticized by some for stepping from the athletic to the political arena, the ACC defended its decision as a principled reaction to what it sees as a form of discrimination that runs contrary to the league’s core values. Athletic directors from the ACC’s four in-state member universities – the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina State University, and Wake Forest University – preceded the ACC’s pronouncement with statements critical of the legislation. The chancellors of North Carolina and North Carolina State, however, were more reserved, issuing a joint statement that praised the ACC for reaffirming a league-wide commitment to inclusion and diversity, but also expressed concern for potential unintended adverse consequences for the state’s fan base and the host communities.
The ACC has stated that it will announce new sites for the relocated events, the first of which is fast approaching. The women’s soccer championship was set to begin October 30 in Cary, N.C.
With its action, the ACC has taken a page from the playbook of the National Football League, which in 1990 moved Super Bowl XXVII from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., because Arizona did not recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.