Why NFL won't shun North Carolina in wake of controversial LGBT bill

As other sports leagues and organizations pledge to track the law signed by Gov. Pat McCrory last month, the embattled league must mull political, economic questions.

Ben Margot/AP/File
A Carolina Panthers fan displays a cape with the team's logo before the NFL Super Bowl 50 game on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. The league has declined to move an owners' meeting scheduled for May in Charlotte N.C., in the wake of a controversial law signed by the state's governor that critics say curbs protections for LGBT people.

Despite widespread opposition to a controversial law in North Carolina that critics say limits protections for gay and transgender people, the NFL has declined to move the location of an owners’ meeting scheduled for May 23-25 in Charlotte, N.C.

Several other sports leagues and individual teams, including the NCAA, ACC, hockey’s Carolina Hurricanes, and the US Golf Association have all pledged to monitor the debates around the law.

The NBA has also expressed concerns about how the bill could impact its 2017 All-Star Game, which is currently set to be played in Charlotte, and has received a proposal to move the game to Atlanta from the Atlanta City Council.

The NFL appears to be taking a different stance. “We embrace diversity and inclusiveness in all of our policies," league spokesman Brian McCarthy told ESPN.com. “The Panthers have made clear their position of non-discrimination and respect for all their fans. The city of Charlotte has also made clear its position."

But, he added, “the meeting will take place in the city of Charlotte.”

The decision is one of several controversies roiling the league in recent years, including questions about whether it covered up evidence of concussions in football players and sought counsel from the tobacco industry, and a debate over whether to rename the Washington Redskins that prompted criticism of team owner Dan Snyder.

When North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB2 on March 23, it quickly drew public outcry. The bill negates a local ordinance in Charlotte that provided protections for transgender people who use public restrooms based on their gender identity.

It also overrules local ordinances across the state that provide additional protections for LGBT people.

According to the campaign finance website FollowTheMoney, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and three members of the team’s ownership group have made sizable donations to Governor McCrory, a Republican who previously spent 14 years as mayor of Charlotte.

In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a “religious liberty” bill last month after the NFL warned that it could risk Atlanta’s bid for the Superbowl and the NCAA said the bill’s passage could influence whether the state could host championship games. The bill would have strengthened legal protections for opponents of same-sex marriage.

The North Carolina law has also drawn similar concerns about its economic impact. On Tuesday, PayPal withdrew plans for a new operations center in Charlotte that would have created more than 400 jobs, because it is opposing the law.

Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium is currently undergoing an $87.5-million, publicly funded renovation to increase its chances of hosting a Super Bowl. The earliest Charlotte could host the NFL Championship would be in 2022, The Washington Post reports.

The NBA says it is also mulling the proposals to move next year’s All-Star game.

“We are deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect and do not yet know what impact it will have” on the game, the league said in a statement earlier this month.

Former player and veteran commentator Charles Barkley has taken a stronger stance.

“As a black person, I’m against any form of discrimination, against whites, Hispanics, gays, lesbians, however you want to phrase it,” Mr. Barkley said in a CNN interview on Sunday.

“It’s my job, with the position of power that I’m in and being able to be on television, I’m supposed to stand up for the people that can’t stand up for themselves,” he added. “So I think the NBA should move the All-Star Game from Charlotte.”

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