This week offered a window into how different sports leagues manage controversial issues. WNBA players wear black shirts to draw attention to recent police shootings? Fine them. A doctor makes false and outright dangerous claims about the risks of head injuries in football? Protect him, and then quietly see him off into retirement. A state passes a law that is widely considered discriminatory toward gay and transgender people? Uproot an annual showcase slated to take place there and take one of the league’s biggest events out of town.
You’ve probably heard by now that the NBA will not hold the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte, following through on a promise commissioner Adam Silver made in April, when he said the game would move if North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2 remained in place. “We’ve been, I think, crystal clear a change in the law is necessary for us to play in the kind of environment that we think is appropriate for a celebratory NBA event,” Silver said at the time.
That law has not changed, and so the league has announced it is done; the NBA will reportedly consider hosting the All-Star Game in New Orleans instead, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski. HB2, signed into law in March, struck down a Charlotte ordinance that extended certain rights to gay and transgender people, including the right to use the bathroom of the gender with which one identifies. The law also established protected classes of citizens that do not include sexual orientation or gender identity.
The NBA’s move should not be viewed as purely altruistic: Silver was not exactly going out on a limb in denouncing a law that the Justice Department has already condemned as a violation of civil rights. Earlier this week, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and NC State coach Mark Gottfried both spoke out against the law in interviews with USA Today.
Still, leaving Charlotte over a political issue is a bold extension of the league’s advocacy, and a stark indication of how the NBA views itself. Where other leagues tend to come off as mere administrators of sporting events, Silver is refreshingly frank in his belief that a body with as much financial heft as the NBA should shoulder some responsibility for where its money ends up. The same principle could be seen in 2014, when Silver forced Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell his team and banned him from the league for life after Sterling was recorded making racist remarks in a phone call.
An unfortunate casualty in all this: Charlotte, where HB2 is deeply unpopular; after the bill was signed, many of the city’s residents and officials united under the hashtag #WeAreNotThis. The loss of the All-Star Game is bound to sting: After pouring $33.5 million into Time Warner Cable Arena with an eye toward the 2017 showcase, the city is left with an odious state law, and will be denied the jobs, exposure, and estimated $100 million that the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority predicted the event would have brought in. The NBA attempted to soften the blow by suggesting that Charlotte would be considered as a host for the 2019 All-Star Game — surely small consolation to Charlotte residents now.
This wasn’t Silver’s first time using the NBA’s clout to push for social change, and it surely won’t be the last. The question now: When will other leagues follow suit?