The NBA says it is “working closely” with the Utah Jazz on this matter, which could also affect future NCAA events
In his letter to Utah lawmakers explaining his veto against House Bill 11, Governor Spencer Cox explained that the bill, which would prevent transgender girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identities, “has several fundamental flaws and needs to be reconsidered. “
In addition to the moral outcry that has arisen over a version of the bill that was rushed through with no opportunity for public debate, practical issues are at stake, with Cox focusing on the lack of financial protection for the Utah High School Activities Association, which is sure to face lawsuits if the legislature’s planned override of Cox’s veto goes as expected.
However, there could be other unintended consequences for sports in Utah as a result of HB11. Key among them: the possibility of the NBA pulling next year’s scheduled All-Star Game out of Salt Lake City, and the NCAA refusing to allow Utah schools to host future national and regional events in response.
Such precedents already exist.
In July 2016, the NBA withdrew its scheduled 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, NC, as a result of the league’s opposition to the HB2, seeking to limit anti-discrimination protections for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders. (Charlotte ended hosting in 2019 after HB2 was later withdrawn.)
Is the 2023 NBA All-Star Game – slated to be hosted by the Utah Jazz – a possibility of being taken out of Salt Lake City?
“We are working closely with the Jazz in this area,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday.
The Jazz organization has not yet commented on the situation. But team owner Ryan Smith, who has a history of publicly supporting LGBTQ+ causes — including a “LoveLoud Night” at Vivint Arena during the March 9 game against the Portland Trail Blazers — tweeted Wednesday his opposition to the bill.
“We have to love these children. This bill was rushed, flawed and won’t hold up over time. I hope we can find a better way. Either way, for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community, you’re safe with us,” Smith wrote to his 54,000 followers.
Utah Jazz co-owner Dwyane Wade and wife Gabrielle Union are parents to a transgender daughter, Zaya. Union recently conducted an interview with BuzzFeed discussing LGBTQ+ activism, saying in part, “Our job is to be loving, compassionate and protective guides to our children, but their lives are theirs and we must respect that,” said they. “We do not believe in any form of shaming for existence. That’s bizarre, cruel, [and] harmful.”
It would be a blow if the All-Star Game could be withdrawn or postponed. The All-Star weekend attracts people from all over the world and usually brings in a lot of money for the host city.
The NBA has a history of taking a stance on social justice issues. In the summer of 2020, as protests erupted across the country in direct response to George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, the NBA resumed from its COVID hiatus in a bubble environment near Orlando, Florida, with players wearing jerseys with social justice messages, and the court itself prominently displaying the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” Teams knelt while playing the national anthem without penalty.
Meanwhile, the University of Utah is slated to host teams for first and second round NCAA Tournament games at Vivint Arena in 2024. An NCAA women’s gymnastics division is also planned to be held at the Huntsman Center in 2025.
Just as North Carolina’s HB2 influenced the NBA All-Star game, the NCAA made it clear at the time that it would take extreme measures regarding who gets to host its championships.
The NCAA responded to HB2 that fall by pulling seven championship events during the 2016-17 academic year from the state of North Carolina, which has been a desirable host for multiple sports for decades. Those seven events included an NCAA first/second round tournament in Greensboro and a Women’s College Cup, also known as the Women’s Soccer Final Four. At the time, the NCAA also made it clear that it would essentially ban North Carolina from future hosting options until at least 2022†
On March 30, 2017, the state legislature partially repealed House Bill 2, lifting restrictions on transgender use of restrooms. Days later, the NCAA ended its ban on championship events in the state of North Carolina.
In the five years since North Carolina’s partial repeal, more states have made strides with transgender athlete laws, but the NCAA has not stripped anyone else of championships already awarded, or barred anyone from future hosting opportunities.
The state of Arkansas banned transgender athletes from women’s sports teams in March 2021. The University of Arkansas will host the qualifying round of the NCAA Track and Field Championships in the west in 2022, while the SEC school will host six more NCAA championship events through 2026.
The NCAA has not yet responded to multiple inquiries from The Salt Lake Tribune for comment on the matter.