- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The National Basketball Association may be threatening to relocate its 2017 All-Star Game over North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” but that hasn’t stopped the league from participating in television commercials that some in the transgender community compare to blackface.

The State Farm commercial series “Meet the Hoopers” began airing in December and has been playing throughout the NBA season and playoffs. It features Los Angeles Clippers star DeAndre Jordan as the “mom” of a fictional Hoopers family, comprised of fellow NBA players Kevin Garnett, Damian Lillard, Kevin Love and Chris Paul.

In the commercials, Mr. Jordan, a 6-foot-11 man with a beard and tattoos, wears a blonde wig, golden hoop earrings and women’s clothing for comedic effect. In one of the 30-second spots, entitled “Robbed,” Mr. Jordan mimics female mannerisms and becomes histrionic when he mistakenly believes he has been burglarized.

Susan Maasch, executive director of the board for the Transgender Youth Equality Foundation, said such caricatures of gender nonconformity are harmful to transgender people.

“Some insist that drag is simply entertainment, but to use something that’s sort of an entertainment factor, or poking fun, or laughing about gender or nonconforming behavior or gender variance or anything like that is pretty painful to anybody who really is marginalized,” Ms. Maasch said.

Ms. Maasch said such skits are akin to blackface, a racist charade popularized in the 19th century in which white performers wear black face paint and act out black stereotypes for entertainment value.

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“I do think the comparison [to blackface] is valid,” she said. “I do think it’s certainly valid when you listen to the voices of people who are affected by it. We do hear it a lot. We really do.”

Comedic portrayals of gender nonconformity, Ms. Maasch continued, perpetuate the idea that it is OK to mock and bully those who are different.

“It’s amazing to me that any company now, with all that’s going on in the sensitivity for transgender people, and the bills that are going on everywhere and causing a lot of anger, that they would do anything that could be insensitive that way,” Ms. Maasch said. “It’s a bad choice — probably a bad choice that they didn’t think out very well. And it is hurtful.”

Advertisements that feature the NBA’s intellectual property go through the league office for approval. The State Farm commercials display the NBA logo.

The NBA did not respond to a question from The Washington Times about whether the State Farm ad campaign will continue to air during the basketball playoffs.

State Farm said in a statement it “was never our intent to offend anyone.”

“Our goal with this specific campaign was to appeal to NBA fans by highlighting fun interactions between players off the court,” the company said.

In response to a law in North Carolina barring people from using the public facilities of the opposite sex, the NBA has threatened to move the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte. The league said the law is discriminatory toward transgender people, who want to use the facilities of the gender with which they identify.

“The NBA is dedicated to creating an inclusive environment for all who attend our games and events,” the NBA said in a statement last month. “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 our ability to successfully host the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte.”

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory issued an executive order earlier this month clarifying that the law only applies to public facilities.

The NBA is one of more than 100 corporations, largely based in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, who spoke out against the law and threatened to curtail business activities in the state.

The NBA is not the first company to draw scorn from the transgender community for airing commercials featuring a man dressing as a woman for comedic effect. Old Navy was criticized over a commercial featuring comedian Fred Armisen outfitted in a blonde wig and women’s clothing.

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