- - Wednesday, April 5, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION

North Carolina has been released from the penalty box.

After repealing the controversial “bathroom bill” last week and replacing it with a compromise measure, the state was rewarded by the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference. Events that were pulled due to the anti-LGBT nature of House Bill 2 can return.

The ACC voted to put North Carolina back in the running for conference events last week and the NCAA followed suit Tuesday, announcing that the state will be considered for championship events in the 2018-22 cycle.

“We are actively determining site selections, and this new law has minimally achieved a situation where we believe NCAA championships may be conducted in a non-discriminatory environment,” the statement read. “If we find that our expectations of a discrimination-free environment are not met, we will not hesitate to take necessary action at any time.

“The board remains concerned that some may perceive North Carolina’s moratorium against affording opportunities for communities to extend basic civil rights as a signal that discriminatory behavior is permitted and acceptable, which is inconsistent with the NCAA Bylaws.”

Economic pressure by the NCAA and other entities paid off. The 2017 NBA All-Star Game was played in New Orleans, instead of Charlotte as originally planned. PayPal canceled an operations center that represented a $3.6 million investment and would’ve created 400 jobs. More than 120 companies signed a letter protesting the law while scores of entertainers and conventions canceled bookings. Several governors and mayors banned non-essential government travel to North Carolina.

Diving into the political fray headfirst made the NCAA and NBA more than sports organizations. Just like the NFL — when it pulled a Super Bowl from Arizona for its refusal to recognize the national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — the NCAA and NBA took a stand outside of athletics.

It makes me wonder: What other causes are worthy of their support? If they’re interested in fighting discriminatory action and the damaging repercussions, I have the perfect suggestion.

Focusing on bills that affect transgender people and their rights in a restroom is fine and dandy.

But shooting down bills that affect people of color and their rights to a voting booth is arguably more important and impactful.

A federal appeals court last fall invalidated a North Carolina voting bill that tried to turn back the clock. The legislation was ruled to be the most restrictive “since the era of Jim Crow,” designed to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

If the NCAA and NBA are going to be outraged over access to bathrooms, how can they shrug over access to ballots? If the organizations want to battle discrimination, how can they ignore disenfranchisement?

Most NBA players and athletes in the NCAA’s revenue-producing sports are black, placing them (and family members) at risk when legislators make brazen attempts to limit voting rights. Sports organizations should feel compelled to decry such malicious measures instead of leaving all the work to civil rights organizations.

But the indignation that arose in response to HB2 was nonexistent when the state used racial data to craft legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected black voters. Some of the moves were blatant, like eliminating an early voting day on Sunday because black churches traditionally provide transportation for “souls to the polls.”

North Carolina knew exactly what it was doing. “Counties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black” and “disproportionately Democratic,” the legislature told the appeals court. The court responded that such an admission is “as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times.”

Now that HB2 has been repealed, the NBA is expected to give Charlotte the 2019 All-Star Game. The league earlier said it would do so if sufficient changes were made to the measure, which it deemed discriminatory not just because of restrooms.

“The bathroom issue has become a little bit of a distraction,” commissioner Adam Silver told reporters last summer before the game was relocated. “From the very beginning, that was not the core issue (in the league’s unease). It was protection for the LGBT community in terms of economic rights, personal rights.”

When the NCAA decided to pull championship events from North Carolina, NCAA president Mark Emmert said “fairness is about more than the opportunity to participate in college sports, or even compete for championships.”

The battle isn’t over. Nearly half the states have passed, or are attempting to pass, voting legislation that disproportionately hurts African Americans and Hispanics. Suffice it to say such laws would never be imagined if those blocs were more likely to vote differently.

That’s not fair. Yet I haven’t heard a peep from the NCAA or NBA, let alone the big-name celebrities and companies that pulled out of North Carolina over HB2.

Fights must be picked and chosen but the penalty box has been established. Sports organizations (along with everyone else) should continue to use it for righteous causes.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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