2015 Super Bowl could be at risk over anti-gay bill
PHOENIX, USA – National Football League officials are carefully watching the fate of controversial anti-gay legislation in Arizona as the US state prepares to host Super Bowl 49 in February 2015.
The NFL championship spectacle, which organizers estimated produced $550 to $600 million in economic impact for the New York region earlier this month, could potentially be moved from Arizona for the second time.
At issue is Senate Bill 1062, which would allow individuals to use religious beliefs as a defense against lawsuits.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act could provide legal protections for denying service to customers based on their faith, gender or sexual preferences.
Protesters have marched on the state capitol and Governor Jan Brewer has a weekend deadline to veto the bill, sign it into law or do nothing and have it become law.
Meanwhile, the NFL was considering its options.
"Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other improper standard," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement.
"We are following the issue in Arizona and will continue to do so should the bill be signed into law, but will decline further comment at this time."
An NFL rejection could spark business conventions and tourists to make similar decisions in what could become a major economic setback for the southwestern US state.
Baseball, basketball also object
Major League Baseball, which has half of its 30 clubs staging pre-season exhibition games in the Phoenix area in the next month, came out against SB 1062 Wednesday, invoking the name of the first African-American player in the sport.
"As the sport of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball and its 30 clubs stand united behind the principles of respect, inclusion and acceptance," it said in a statement.
"Those values are fundamental to our game's diverse players, employees and fans. We welcome individuals of different sexual orientations, races, religions, genders and national origins."
It added: "MLB has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation... Accordingly, MLB will neither support nor tolerate any words, attitudes or actions that imperil the inclusive communities that we have strived to foster within our game."
The NBA Phoenix Suns, who play 41 home games in Arizona, and the Women's NBA Arizona Mercury, who boast openly gay star Brittney Griner, also came out solidly against the measure.
"Sports has the unique power to unite, to bring together a community without regard to individual differences," they said in a statement.
"The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury are proud members of this community and we embrace fans, families and businesses of every stripe."
"We are steadfastly committed to the principles of inclusivity and acceptance and cannot support anything that is not in line with that philosophy," they added.
The 2014 WNBA All-Star Game is scheduled to be played at Phoenix on July 19.
'Significant blow' economically
Also among those against the measure is the host committee of Super Bowl 49, set for the domed home stadium of the Arizona Cardinals in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale.
"We do not support this legislation," it said in a statement.
"Instead, we look forward to continuing to promote the NFL's values while focusing on the economic momentum apparent in Arizona and capturing the positive worldwide attention associated with hosting Super Bowl 49."
Area business leaders have already made their feelings clear to the Super Bowl group.
"A key part of the mission for the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee is to promote the economic vitality of Arizona," the committee said.
"On that matter we have heard loud and clear from our various stakeholders that adoption of this legislation would not only run contrary to that goal but deal a significant blow to the state's economic growth potential."
The Phoenix area already has the stigma of being the only host in Super Bowl history to ever have the big game stripped away.
The NFL moved the 1993 Super Bowl from Arizona to Pasadena, California, after Arizona voters in 1990 failed to approve a paid state holiday in tribute to the slain African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
After a 1992 Arizona vote creating a paid state holiday to honor King, the NFL staged the 1996 Super Bowl at Arizona State University's Sun Devil Stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe.
The latest controversy comes as the NFL prepares to welcome Michael Sam, a college standout who is openly gay and expected to be selected in May's NFL Draft and become the league's first openly homosexual player.
Last Sunday, Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in an NBA game. – Rappler.com