A disappointing end: Why the NCAA gave in to North Carolina too soon

Next year, per usual, teams will eagerly await to find out if they made the cut for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Some of those lucky few will be making their first stops in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As things stand today, that’s just wrong.

Sports leagues rarely use their power to promote a message that can truly make a positive difference. But that’s exactly what the NCAA and NBA did this past year when standing up against North Carolina’s passing of House Bill 2 (HB2). They took a stance against a law that went against the very things their organizations believe in. With them they took millions of dollars and directed the public’s attention on a state that deserved it.

Now, however, that is gone.

The original cause of the boycott came when HB2 reversed a previous ordinance which had given people who are gay or transgender more rights. While the law also included other measures for increasing protection of the LGBTQ+ community, the attention focused on the fact that transgender people were no longer allowed to use the bathroom that fit their chosen gender identity. In addition, cities and counties could no longer make their own standard for bathroom use, while private businesses were able to adopt any sort of discriminatory or non-discriminatory policies they liked.

After entertainers canceled trips to the state, the NBA was the first sports organization to follow, announcing it was moving the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte. In September, the NCAA joined in as well, removing seven 2016-17 championships from the region. The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) also moved the conference’s football championship.

The pressure mounted, and just in time for a deadline the NCAA gave North Carolina, a new law was passed March 30 to put on the facade of changing HB2. The problem is the new “compromise” does nothing. The state is still the only body that can pass legislation concerning transgender people’s public bathroom use. Local governments can’t even pass certain anti-discrimination laws in the state until December, 2020, because apparently having equal rights needs to wait a presidential term.

Of course days later, the NCAA released a statement saying that North Carolina would host the championships scheduled for 2017-18 academic year and that it would be reconsidered for future championships. The NBA then announced that Charlotte is now eligible to host the 2019 All-Star Game, with commissioner Adam Silver adding, “We believe that an All-Star Game in Charlotte could be a powerful way to display our values of equality and inclusion, and by engaging even more deeply in North Carolina, we can be part of a larger national effort toward securing LGBT equality. … Ultimately, I believe changing attitudes and not just laws is what will lead to that result.”

He’s not wrong. Changing a law won’t impact the minds of everyone in the state. But the holdout now seems worthless. What’s the point if you are just going to give in once language is moved around and the word “compromise” is thrown in? The NCAA returning is made worse by the fact that there are transgender student-athletes. Their well-being is now compromised by this decision.

Suggesting there could be championships played once again in a state that doesn’t acknowledge the rights of gay and transgender people will hurt the possibilities for impactful change. Even if they negotiate specific allowances for NCAA events, they no longer hold influence over the state.

Laws don’t usually change opinions, but they do change actions. And if actions are taking place over time they become normalized things and people may be willing to change their opinion.

The NCAA’s mission is to provide for the welfare of student-athletes and give them the best environment possible, both in terms of their sport and in the classroom. Giving in to pressure unnecessarily doesn’t do that. It’s presenting the message that the discrimination against transgender and gay student-athletes is acceptable. How are these young adults expected to find a welcome place among their peers if the very organization that represents them is no longer fighting for them?

The ACC announced that it would also return the football title game and other neutral-site matches to the state. Despite this fact, a law was introduced this week threatening to pull the University of North Carolina and NC State from the ACC if they boycott the state again. This proves that the “new” law means nothing. Nothing has changed. The NCAA should and needs to be tougher than this. In the statement announcing its intent to consider North Carolina again, the NCAA mentions a reluctance in making the decision. If the committee was doubting the decision, why make it? Show the strength that you ask of from thousands of student-athletes to everyday.

But money always seems to win and antagonizing one of the centers of basketball was just more than the two leagues could bare. This was the wrong decision, and North Carolina is making no secret of the fact that nothing has changed. Sports are already a difficult place for transgender people to make an impact — the NCAA shouldn’t be making it harder.

Contact Alaina Getzenberg at [email protected]

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