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A Solid Spot to Stand

NCAA takes strategic position on championships in regions with religious freedom laws

Brian Hendrickson

Sometimes, the home run isn’t necessary. All that’s needed is a well-placed hit to drive in the winning score.

That’s the situation the NCAA Board of Governors found itself in this spring when it faced ongoing questions about the Association’s stance toward recent religious freedom laws, such as those passed in Indiana, North Carolina and Mississippi. Those laws, which were intended to guarantee people’s rights to execute their religious beliefs, ran counter to the NCAA’s beliefs in inclusive practices by potentially opening the door to sanctioned discrimination. Some supporters in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community called on the Association to pull the Final Four from Texas, one state that has passed legislation viewed as discriminatory.

It was a tight position: How do you condemn practices that conflict with inclusive values that make up the bedrock of college sports without punishing and alienating fans and supporters in those areas whose beliefs don’t align with those laws? How do you stand firm without collateral damage?

The board’s solution: Establish a new procedure requiring those currently scheduled to host an NCAA event, or who want to bid on a future event, to explain how they will protect from discrimination all college sports participants and fans, regardless of their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

The decision drew widespread praise from around the nation, which might sound surprising given Americans’ love of bold stances. After all, no laws were changed by the board’s decision, and the policy itself still is being implemented. This wasn’t a move that drew blood.

At least, it hasn’t yet. And that’s sort of the point.

Sure, pulling an event – as so many critics of the religious freedom laws called for – would provide a bold, immediate statement. But being a leader in this space can be more effective by empowering communities that can then take action. Something as simple as a statement of support, while primarily intended to protect student-athletes and other members of the collegiate community, can empower discriminated groups by providing them with a meaningful voice.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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