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Friday, April 03, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - "When sports becomes a force for social change"

"NCAA chief plays hardball with ‘religious freedom’ law" is the headline to Maureen Hayden's April 2nd CNHI story, here in the New Albany News & Tribune. Some quotes:

INDIANAPOLIS — As national attention turns to the Final Four here in the state’s capital city, NCAA President Mark Emmert blamed the uproar over the “religious freedom” law on the inability of Gov. Mike Pence and Republican legislative leaders to recognize the “sea change” in public opinion about gay rights.

“(T)hey all grossly underestimated, to be polite, the reaction of the citizens of Indiana,” Emmert said Thursday of the firestorm ignited after Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law a week ago. Critics of the law said it was a license to discriminate against gays and lesbians under the guise of religion.

In past days, Emmert said the NCAA would consider pulling its major sporting events — including the Final Four and the $700 million it generates for the tourism industry in Indiana — if the Legislature didn’t act.

Emmert opened the press conference, attended by scores of national media outlets in town to cover the NCAA men’s basketball championship, by saying the public furor sparked by the law had “overshadowed” the games.

But he elevated the issue by saying that the furor was deserved: He said a law that would allow business owners to refuse service to individuals based on their sexual orientation was “more important than a basketball tournament.” * * *

Emmert also said he would recommend the Indianapolis-based NCAA move its headquarters from any area “that didn’t prohibit discrimination.”

“I hope we don’t find ourselves in that place,” he said. “We hope they can resolve it quickly, not just because of this event but because it’s an important issue to get the law right on and get it right fast.”

The NCAA moved its headquarters to Indianapolis in 1999, after the state and city offered the organization a $50 million incentive package to re-locate here from Kansas. * * *

Emmert said he personally supported adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes of people protected by Indiana’s civil rights law and would bring the issue to NCAA governing board next month.

“I think it would be appropriate. It’s, again, consistent with the values of our office and staff,” he said. * * *

The NCAA was among the first major organizations to publicly threaten a boycott of Indianapolis when the law, known as RFRA, was passed last week. It went public soon after sports analyst Jason Collins, the NBA’s first openly gay player, directed a sharp tweet at Pence, asking: “Is it going to be legal for someone to discriminate against me & others when we come to the "FinalFour?” * * *

University of Notre Dame women’s basketball Muffet McGraw chimed in, asking the NCAA to consider pulling the women’s tournament in 2016 from Indianapolis. The University of Connecticut basketball coach, whose team won the national championship last year, decided to boycott the Final Four after the Connecticut governor barred all state-sponsored travel to Indiana.

The threats to move the Final Four didn’t sound empty to Indianapolis tourism and business officials. They knew NCAA already doesn’t hold post-season games in South Carolina and Mississippi because those states still fly the Confederate flag. The Indiana Sports Corp., which manages the Final Four host committee, also joined in the intense lobbying efforts to pressure Pence and legislators to fix the law.

Emmert promised the NCAA would keep an eye on the new law’s effects in both the near future and the long term. But he expressed support for actions taken Thursday by the Legislature, as they were working on a fix.

“Now they’re taking the actions that they’re taking,” Emmert said. “And we all hope, we all up here hope, that they get there.”

Brookings' John Hudak reported April 1st in a story headed "Women’s college basketball could change Indiana’s religious freedom law":
In 2016, Indianapolis will host the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four. While women’s college sports are not always seen as the biggest draw in terms of athletics, this event is one of the highest profile in women’s—or any—athletics. It generates high levels of attendance, TV viewership and substantial revenue for the cities that host the event. (Last year’s event brought between $20-25 million in direct revenue to the host city, Nashville.)

The impact and importance of this event pushes cities to vie for the opportunity to host and reap the economic and advertising benefits that come with it. However, Indianapolis’ hosting of next year’s Women’s Final Four was dramatically complicated by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. * * *

Losing the Women’s Final Four will not mean economic devastation for Indiana, but the NCAA (headquartered in Indianapolis) and other athletic organizations could follow UConn’s lead and create serious economic pressure to change this new law. And thus, a college hoops team from Connecticut could end up playing a huge role in national politics and state-level public policy.

Mark Alesia put it all together today in this long story in the Indianapolis Star, headed "When sports becomes a force for social change." Some quotes:
Thursday at the Statehouse, where many of the most powerful people in Indy sports gathered, it wasn't about building a dome before the city even had an NFL team. It wasn't about race cars. Or confetti raining down on Final Four champions. Or national acclaim from hosting a Super Bowl.

It was about using the local clout of sports to help move a seemingly intractable social issue — even if it didn't move nearly far enough for many — and to do so with urgency. Downtown Indy is about to be flooded with thousands of college basketball fans for the Final Four.

Purdue history professor Randy Roberts, who has written several books about sports, couldn't think of anything else like it in Indiana.

Ryan Vaughn, president of the Indiana Sports Corp, was among the city's sports leaders who stood behind lawmakers at the Statehouse as they announced a "fix" to the "religious freedom" law. The law has brought national scorn onto Hoosiers as bigots with little regard for LGBT people.

It was clear that the people who run sports in this city had much to lose from the national perception problem, and they played huge roles in trying to correct that.

"It's always about more than a game here," Vaughn said. "It's about who we are."

Mark Miles, head of the company that owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was behind closed doors with lawmakers as they tried to hammer out a solution.

NCAA President Mark Emmert spoke with Gov. Mike Pence and explained to him "the seriousness with which universities and colleges take issues like this. These are not sidebar issues for a university. These go right at the heart of who a university is and what they stand for. I made that really clear."

Allison Melangton, who ran the Super Bowl host committee for Indy, stood behind the lawmakers at a news conference, as did Tony Mason, senior vice president of the Super Bowl host committee. IMS President Doug Boles was there, too.

"I think we have a higher percentage of people here in Indianapolis who are leading the sports industry and also happen to be business and community leaders," Melangton said.

No one fits that description more than Pacers vice chairman Jim Morris, an architect of the strategy to use sports to grow the city.

"For 50 years, Hoosiers, people who live in Indianapolis, have worked as hard as humanly possible with the most collegial, inclusive mindset, to tell the world that we want them to come to Indiana, to Indianapolis," Morris said. "That they're welcome here. That this is a dynamic, upbeat, happy, positive place. And the results of that effort have been extraordinary."

But the law still threatens to dismantle that reputation. And that's not to mention major events scheduled for Indianapolis that are in jeopardy — next year's women's Final Four, early-round men's tournament games in 2017, the men's Final Four in 2021.

And, of course, the NCAA headquarters is in Indianapolis, an easy walk from the Statehouse. While praising Indy as a great home for the NCAA at Thursday's news conference, Emmert wouldn't absolutely rule out moving. * * *

Emmert, who has endured endless criticism during his time as NCAA president, has won praise for his role in the RFRA debate.

"The issue here was, first of all, near and dear to us because we have 500 employees in this state," Emmert said. "We run the enterprise from here. We have to attract a diverse workforce, we have to have a workforce that is attractive to all walks of life. We have a particularly young staff. These issues for young people are very, very different than they are for old codgers like me."

Polls show people under 30 having vastly more tolerant views of LGBT rights than older people.

"When we talk about the role of sports," said IPFW professor Andy Downs of the Downs Center for Indiana Politics, "a lot of people will talk about it as just sports."

But the events of the last couple of days — and the show of force at the Statehouse on Thursday and in private meetings with lawmakers and the governor — demonstrated it can be about something much more.

Finally, a story late Wednesday in USA Today from Erik Brady and Paul Myerberg, titled "How sports world is driving changes to disputed Indiana religious freedom law."

ILB: As the NCAA's Emmert said, the second part of this effort will be: "adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes of people protected by Indiana’s civil rights law." Hopefully, this can be accomplished quickly in Indiana, without additional drama.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 3, 2015 08:27 AM
Posted to Indiana Government