NFL May Not Let Falcons Host Super Bowl if Georgia Passes Anti-Gay Bill
Georgia's proposed "religious liberty" legislation has an unlikely opponent: the NFL.
On Wednesday, the Georgia General Assembly approved House Bill 757, a measure that would prevent the federal government from burdening "a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a law, rule, regulation, ordinance or resolution of general applicability." The measure would also protect faith-based organizations that deny "social, educational or charitable services that violate such faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief."
On its face, the bill aims to preserve religious freedom, but it is, in essence, a barely concealed assault on gay rights. State Sen. Greg Kirk, a republican, said as much.
“When the Supreme Court changed the definition of marriage, dynamics changed,” Kirk told The New York Times. “There was a need for a law, for this law, and it took Georgia to lead the way of the country to put this law together.”
Evidently, news of the bill's approval didn't sit well with the NFL. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked the league for its position on the bill, and on Friday, the league responded, issuing the following statement:
NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other improper standard. Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.
If that doesn't sound like a particularly harsh condemnation, consider the context. The Atlanta Falcons are building a new, $1.5 billion stadium, to be completed in 2017. Falcons owner Arthur Blank has been vocal in his desire to host multiple Super Bowls in the stadium, and according to The Washington Post, the Falcons are one of four finalists for hosting duties in 2019 and 2020.
Blank, obviously, sided with the NFL, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday that he believes in a "diverse, inclusive and welcoming Georgia," and that House Bill 757 "undermines these principles and would have long-lasting negative impact" on the state. Atlanta's two other major professional sports franchises issued similar statements.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, with whom the bill now sits, has not said whether or not he plans to sign the bill into law, calling it a "difficult subject" and a "judgment call." Opposition from the NFL and three of Atlanta's sports teams might not swing Deal against the bill, but it's hard to believe it won't factor into his decision.
The NFL isn't exactly known as a social justice warrior, but when it has weighed in on similar issues in the past, it has shown that it means business. In 1990, the NFL moved the Super Bowl from Arizona to Los Angeles when the state refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And in 2014, the league told Arizona—host of the 2015 Super Bowl—that it would consider moving the game if the state passed its proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill.