By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) — It’s been an important month for the NFL — for reasons that go way beyond football.
When Michael Sam announced publicly Feb. 9 that he is gay, he put the league in a position where actions — and not just words — were necessary to address homophobia in the NFL.
Unfortunately, the action that really matters — an NFL team drafting the first openly gay player onto their football team — can’t come until May.
But the league didn’t wait to show action when it came to homophobia and discrimination happening in the state where the next Super Bowl is scheduled to be held in 2015.
While Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer mulled over our country’s most dreadful and discriminatory piece of legislation since the pre-Civil Rights Movement Era, the NFL reportedly moved swiftly this week to consider relocating next year’s Super Bowl, which is currently set to take place in Glendale, Ariz.
Arizona Senate Bill 1062 — which may as well just be called “Arizona’s Bill Against Gay People” — would have allowed businesses to deny services to people based on their religious beliefs.
Sound vague? That’s because it is. Arizona Senate Bill 1062, and a similar one that died in Kansas this month, were written in a way that opened the door to potentially limitless discrimination that could be deemed legal.
Supporters of these anti-gay laws will say a photographer whose religious beliefs don’t support homosexuality should have the right to deny services for a marriage between same-sex couples. Maybe that sounds reasonable to you, but it also brings up the all too common scenario where legislators are pointing to the Bible and selectively applying it conveniently with the idea that they are protecting religious liberty when in fact they are doing nothing more than discriminating.
Is the baker of a cake for a wedding — same-sex or not — affirming that wedding? What about the florist? Is it the photographer’s job to do anything more than capture the moment, no matter the gender of the subjects?
And are services also going to be denied to those who went through a divorce without the biblical grounds to justify it? Or is it just the gay couples that are the problem?
Gay couples have recently won lawsuits against Christians who denied these services, which is what appears to be sparking the recent legislation to protect religious freedoms. Nevermind, of course, that Arizona still doesn’t allow same-sex marriage.
But beyond weddings, the vague legislation was written in a way that would seemingly allow a restaurant not to serve gay couples. Or a hotel not to give a room to gay couples. Or maybe even a bus company making a gay couple sit in area away from the rest of the passengers.
The fact that this legislation even passed a vote of elected officials and ended up on the desk of Gov. Jan Brewer presents a sad state of reality in Arizona, but fortunately Brewer had the sense to veto Bill 1062 Wednesday evening.
Of course, she did so after corporations across the country announced their opposition to the bill. Those corporations included Apple, American Airlines, Marriott Hotels, and yes, even Major League Baseball.
Beyond the Arizona Diamondbacks, which play in Phoenix, 14 other MLB teams have rooted their spring training facilities in Arizona, contributing to the tourism industry the state relies on. Wednesday, the league released this clear-cut statement:
“As the sport of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball and its 30 Clubs stand united behind the principles of respect, inclusion and acceptance. Those values are fundamental to our game’s diverse players, employees and fans. We welcome individuals of different sexual orientations, races, religions, genders and national origins. MLB has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation.”
But it may have been the NFL that held the ultimate trump card: Super Bowl XLIX.
The NFL wasn’t as steadfast in its opposition toward Bill 1062, but NFL spokesman Greg Aiello did give this statement to multiple news organizations:
“Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. We are following the issue in Arizona and will continue to do so should the bill be signed into law, but will decline further comment at this time.”
For a league with a franchise named the “Redskins” these words may not have meant much if it weren’t for a Sports Illustrated report that said “the NFL on Wednesday morning began investigating the necessary steps to move next season’s Super Bowl from the Phoenix area if the proposal becomes law.”
A few hours later, Gov. Brewer vetoed Bill 1062.
We may never know how much the pressure from the NFL and MLB mattered, but in an era where accepting homosexuality in professional sports has been a painstaking process, their stance was refreshing to see.
And for the NFL, specifically, one might even say the league indirectly stood up for Michael Sam, who theoretically could be a member of the Arizona Cardinals by May.
This was legitimate action. Not just words.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.