The NBA, WNBA, and their Indianapolis-based teams felt compelled to release a joint statement in reaction to Indiana’s religious freedom bill signed into law this week by Governor Mike Pence.
Neither statement refers to the law, even obliquely. Both, instead, innocuously reaffirm the leagues’/teams’ welcoming attitude toward fans, their dollars, and the leagues’ employees paid by them.
“The game of basketball is grounded in long established principles of inclusion and mutual respect,” the men’s and women’s leagues announced. “We will continue to ensure that all fans, players and employees feel welcome at all NBA and WNBA events in Indiana and elsewhere.”
“The Indiana Pacers, Indiana Fever and Bankers Life Fieldhouse have the strongest possible commitment to inclusion and non-discrimination on any basis,” Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon maintained in the statement. “Everyone is always welcome at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That has always been the policy from the very beginning of the Simon family’s involvement and it always will be.”
The NCAA issued an “especially concerned” statement directly addressing the legislation. The NFL, by declining comment, has elicited criticism by those desirous of the league to lend its voice to political concerns extraneous to sports.
“As one of the country’s most influential and high profile businesses, the NFL needs to use its considerable power to reverse such out-of-touch discriminatory practices,” Jeff Duncan writes at The Times-Picayune. “This is one time when sports should huddle with politics.”
Critics demand that the NFL refuse to consider Indianapolis as a Super Bowl host and pull the annual rookie combine from the city, among other punitive actions.
The law in question, which opponents interpret to permit businesses to opt out of providing goods and services to gay weddings and other events that might offend the religious sensibilities of their proprietors, states, with some caveats, that a “governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” The text of the law, written for the most part in wonkish jargon, does not mention the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “homosexuality,” or any other related term or phrase.