Sports leagues biting the hands that feed them

The John Locke Foundation’s Jon Pritchett and Duke professor Ed Tiryakian document for Federalist readers a disturbing trend involving sports and politics.

It appears several sports leagues have decided one of their functions should be to prod state lawmakers to adopt social policies some league leaders prefer. In North Carolina, where we live and work, the NBA, NCAA, and Atlantic Coast Conference have all decided to withdraw major events from the state to express their disapproval of House Bill 2.

The state legislature passed HB2 in March 2016 as a response to an ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council requiring public entities and private businesses to make special provisions for transgender citizens. In essence, these sports organizations have decided their events may occur only in “approved” locations and that states not agreeing with those policies will be starved of the economic benefits of hosting league events.

“Weaponizing” sports for a political or ideological agenda is a dangerous trend. It raises lots of questions about the proper role of sports organizations. Who decides which issues deserve economic sanctioning? Is this limited to perceived discrimination or civil liberty issues, or could economic bullying occur over environmental policies, gun laws, education funding, voter rights, or other state-based issues? Who decides?

In the case of the NCAA, does the president unilaterally make the call? Should those decisions be made by the board, the school presidents, the athletic directors, or a special committee of bureaucrats? …

… Whatever the economic impact of these moves, damage is being done, even if only to our state’s reputation and psyche. We have to call this what it is: economic bullying.

These sports organizations have punished the 10 million residents of North Carolina by withdrawing large, nationally televised events. They have done so because a few leaders of sports organizations that represent thousands of members from states all over the country don’t agree with North Carolina’s laws. Because these laws, passed by a duly elected body of representative lawmakers, are not consistent with the social views, definitions, perceptions, or policies of these sports organizations’ leaders, they have decided to wreak economic punishment.

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