It is 2017 and the NBA, as the most progressive league in the United States has made strides in every single social issue including homosexuality.
It is 2017 and I’m not sure the culture of acceptance in the NBA in regards to homosexuality is where it needs to be and has a VERY long way to go.
I suppose both things can be true.
(Disclaimer - These are my views based on covering the NBA for the last 7 years and my own experiences as a gay/lgbtq individual covering the league. Here is your departure point if you don’t wish to continue reading ... although I hope you stay)
On Wednesday May 24, 2017 the NBA decided to award a completely elective, non-essential game to Charlotte, North Carolina. Not a big deal it would seem right? Stuff like that happens all the time. The fact that it was the NBA All Star game shouldn’t "really" matter in the grand scheme of things.
This is a big deal. Huge deal in fact, and it has colored the way I view the league I’ve covered in depth for the last seven years. Not in a social justice warrior way, but in a fundamental, and I’d say negative way I hadn’t before. This is personal.
The NBA announced that it will hold the 2019 NBA All Star game in Charlotte, North Carolina. Previously the NBA pulled the 2017 All Star Game when they passed a controversial measure called House Bill 2 (HB-2) otherwise known as the "transgender bathroom bill" which, along with being a bill that singled out one class of people (transgender) for discrimination and humiliation ... also made it impossible to pass protections for LGBTQ people in the state.
In March of this year the bill was "repealed" in a compromise ... the transgender portion of the bill was removed BUT in it’s place a law was passed forbidding protections for LGBTQ people until 2020. Conveniently this is the same year newly elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper will be up for re-election. So in essence they removed the headline but kept the awful text. In essence this wasn’t a "repeal" at all ... it was a compromise to get business back to North Carolina (NCAA had threatened to not allow tournament games in the state for 6 years).
My problem with the NBA’s decision on the All Star game is simple. The league doesn’t lose money by not having the game in Charlotte. It is a big mid-season spectacle but the NBA regularly rotates the game. The implication is the league was rewarding North Carolina for their repeal in name only. Commissioner Adam Silver’s reasoning was a bit insulting considering the situation:
"Sports have a long history of helping to change attitudes around important social issues. We believe holding our All-Star activities in Charlotte will be a powerful way for the NBA to continue this tradition."
The whole We can change them from the inside rationale is at best naive, at worst a cynical way to appear to do something when you’ve done nothing. I’m growing inclined to believe the latter. The NBA is the most progressive league in all of US professional sports, that didn’t stop North Carolina from passing HB-2 in the first place. The NBA didn’t pull the Hornets from Charlotte. They still would have played playoff games there should the Hornets have made the post season. The NBA "granted" the All Star game to Charlotte when the lack of All Star game didn’t "hurt" the league in any way. It has sent me, and many other LGBTQ NBA fans a horrible signal.
"If you change your bigoted law in partial measures we will reward you with an All Star game that will bring your city millions in tourist dollars"
If ... IF I’m going to leave any sort of legacy at Denver Stiffs when I move on I hope it will be to show that you can be that you CAN be an individual who is LGBTQ and cover a sports league openly. At least that has been my hope. When the league I cover lets me down in the way that they have this week, it becomes that much more discouraging.
I can’t speak to the NCAA, NFL, MLB or NHL. I can with the NBA and the decision they made this week has hurt me more personally that I can ever adequately translate to print. I feel the league was just waiting for the opportunity to grant the All Star game to Charlotte and only needed the tiniest of windows.
Its a gut punch and it has colored my view of the league I love in an increasingly cynical way. Not sure I’ll ever look at the league the same way. Ever. Don’t read this and think that I’m feeling sorry for me ... I’m worried for LGBTQ people in North Carolina. What must they be thinking right now?
I’m sure it’s much worse that what I’m thinking. I can’t even imagine.