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Will Sports Leagues Mess With Texas?

Let’s begin with a story. A long time ago, there was an All-Star game that was going to be held in Atlanta Georgia. But back then, Georgia’s legislators were proposing some laws that would probably make it harder for Black Georgians to vote. So some companies got together and decided it was going to be hard to do business in a state that didn’t treat some of its citizens as well as others.

One of those companies was Major League Baseball. And all the way back in April of 2021, it moved its All Star Game from Atlanta Georgia to Colorado.

This wasn’t the first time that sports leagues have moved games and events. In 2017 the NCAA, which has a transgender policy in athletics, said that it wouldn’t hold events in North Carolina while the state was trying to pass a bill that would dictate where transgender people could use the bathroom.

Which brings us up the present day. On Wednesday at midnight, the Supreme Court allowed a law to go into effect that will ban abortion beyond six weeks. If that seems short, it’s actually even shorter. Six weeks starts with your most recent period, so this law is in effect only two weeks after the next is missed. Most people don’t have any idea they are pregnant at that point.

But then this law does something very cruel. It allows individuals to accuse men and women of helping someone have an abortion, and can collect $10,000 from it. Anyone accused has to defend themselves in court, and can’t recoup legal fees if charges are false. It’s a new type of vigilante law enforcement, and it’s coupled with other new rules in Texas allowing permit-less carry and new restrictions on voting that empower partisan poll watchers.

So to sports.

The Lone Star State has been an excellent host for Super Bowls and championships games. And these events have pulled in millions of visitors to buy tickets, stay in local hotels and eat so much delicious Tex-Mex they’ll swear they can’t eat another tortilla chip.

When the NFL moves into a city for a Super Bowl, like Dallas in 2011 or Houston in 2017, both of which I covered for ESPN, it takes months of preparation. Reporters and league employees spend weeks setting up broadcast sets and scouting sites, preparing transportation, concert venues and turning the local convention center into an NFL fan experience. City blocks are commandeered for the game, and networks usually have an outdoor set for days and nights of pre-game coverage. There are dinners and parties every night of the week.

But Texas has pulled up the welcome mat. How can the NCAA, whose terrible record on gender inequity was exposed during the most recent NCAA tournament and later in a commissioned gender equity report by a private firm, send the Final Four to Dallas in 2023? Or the men’s in Houston in 2023 and San Antonio in 2025? To only move the women’s tournament would send a message that this only affects one gender, and that just isn’t true.

In reality, privileged visitors who can afford to attend the All-Star game aren’t likely the ones to bear the full burden of these laws. As always, that will probably fall to the poor, to people of color, those who don’t have the means to travel out of state or afford a boutique lawyer. And that’s really why leagues that have influence by virtue of their scale need to step in.

In 2017, my then-ESPN colleague Sara Walsh detailed a miscarriage that she had while she was on air. I felt such a connection with her when she discussed that experience, and today thought that if that had happened on location, and there was a person who didn’t understand what had happened, how that could open her or a producer or her Uber driver up to a lawsuit.

Any league or broadcaster would be putting their employees at risk. And the additional security needed in a permit-less carry state ups the burden on those leagues and broadcasters – is that person with a gun on their hip a fan or a threat? Would you feel good bringing your kids, if you live in a place where guns aren’t allowed in the coffee shops and restaurants?

That welcome mat just doesn’t feel the same today.

There are plenty of other places to have these events. Places that won’t put fans, players and the thousands that work these events at risk.

Leagues might easily decide it’s smarter not to mess with Texas.

Jane McManus is director of the Center for Sports Communication at Marist College.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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