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Greg Abbott v. The NFL

The NFL is threatening to pull out of Texas when it comes to event consideration, and the governor is fighting back.

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Houston hosted an extremely successful Super Bowl two weeks ago, but the fuzzy feelings between the NFL and Texas didn’t last long. A week later, the NFL put Houston—and any other Texas city with ambitions to host future Super Bowls, NFL Drafts, Pro Bowls, or other league events—on notice that, should “bathroom bill” SB6 pass, it’s definitely going to take “inclusiveness” of the host cities of its events into consideration when it determines who gets what.

“The NFL embraces inclusiveness,” spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email response to a Chronicle question about the bill. “We want all fans to feel welcomed at our events, and NFL policies prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard.”

Passage of a measure the league considers “discriminatory or inconsistent with our values” has been the sort of thing that sports leagues have talked about in the past. This weekend, the NBA All Star Game is happening in New Orleans—and not Charlotte, North Carolina, where it was originally scheduled—because of North Carolina’s “bathroom bill.” And the NFL itself took similar action back in 1990, pulling the Super Bowl out of Phoenix amid Arizona’s refusal to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday.

None of this is sitting well with Texas leaders. Governor Greg Abbott, who joined Glenn Beck on his radio show on Tuesday, declared that “the NFL is walking on thin ice right here” and told the league to “get the heck out of politics.” The next day, Dan Patrick echoed the sentiment, telling radio host Laura Ingraham that “they need to stick to their business” and asking if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell supports “boys and girls showering together in the tenth grade.”

“Walking on thin ice” is tough language from Abbott, but the metaphor is dicey. The NFL isn’t at risk of cracking through and finding itself in an untenable situation, simply because the NFL holds considerably more leverage than Texas does here. Texas leaders love it when big events happen in the state. If Tom Brady’s jersey gets stolen after a game, Dan Patrick sends the Texas Rangers to find it. But there are cities in 49 other states that would certainly love to host the Super Bowl, the NFL Draft, or the Pro Bowl, and they’ll all desperately vie to outbid each other for the right to do it. The NFL doesn’t really lose much if they host those events in California every time they might otherwise consider Texas.

Still, Abbott’s built much of his career on taking on powerful adversaries. He boasted in 2012 at the state GOP convention that, as attorney general, his job was simple: “I go the office. I sue the federal government. Then I go home.” That sort of rhetoric didn’t impede his quest for the governorship, but now the federal government is controlled by a president that Abbott proudly supports. So when you’re looking for the next big guy to stand up to, you could do worse than the nation’s most popular sports league.

Abbott’s tactics in this fight are curious. Noting that “NFL decision makers also benched Tom Brady last season” before he won the Super Bowl doesn’t exactly make the slam-dunk point that Abbott is looking for: the NFL didn’t “bench” Brady, they suspended him for cheating. (Whether that’s an accurate description of what happened has been argued ad nauseum in sports media, and turned talk radio hosts into people who talk about things like “ideal gas law.”) That he went on to win the Super Bowl doesn’t reflect poor decision-making on the part of the NFL so much as it reflects that, sometimes, people who’ve been suspended for cheating can also win football games.

On Thursday, Abbott went on Fox’s America’s Newsroom to insist that “if the NFL tries to come down on the state of Texas, I might just pass a bill here in the state of Texas mandating that all NFL players have to stand and put the hand on the heart when the National Anthem is played.”

A lot of this is probably bluster on both sides of the fight. At the very least, it’d be downright wild for Abbott to pursue the law he proposed on Fox on Thursday. And the NFL didn’t take a stand against Houston when the city repealed its equal rights ordinance in 2015, despite the fact that it knew it had the Super Bowl coming to the city fourteen months later.

But pulling a Super Bowl out of a city with scarcely more than a year to go would be difficult. Super Bowls are awarded years in advance—we already know that the 2021 Super Bowl will be played in Los Angeles—and there was already a fair bit of investment sunk into Houston at the time of HERO’s repeal. It’s a much easier matter to look at the list of competing bids to host the 2022 event, or any of the years that follow, and quickly strike off the name of any city in a state whose governor has signed a “bathroom bill” or similar law.

We’ll see what all of this means in the months (and, potentially, years) to come. It’s hard to say how this impacts SB6’s potential for becoming law, but right now, Greg Abbott would like you to know that he doesn’t care what the NFL thinks.

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  • Kenneth Gene Blanke

    Someone forgot to mention the NFL lost half of the NFL fans because a Forty Niner Quarterback bowed and would not stand for the National Anthem , which spread to other players . That bathroom bill is ridiculous , no city or state should enforce . The NFL is on thin ice with fans , the NFL owners need to fire Commissioner Goodell . The states need to sue the NFL for breach of contract when the NFL pulls a Super Bowl . The same for the NBA All Star games .

    • Al Ligator

      Totally agree.

    • José

      So you agree that SB6 is a bad idea. Just like the NFL. Cool!

      • Mark Slaymaker

        Nobody asked me but I agree totally.

    • Texas Bob

      Oh my goodness! Betsy DeVos got ahold of you, too! In your eyes, 8% (the actual ratings drop) = “half”… what color is the sky in your world? Are the clouds made of marshmallows or frosting?

      • Charlie

        No, we do not share your delusions, Bob. We believe in biology, genetics, and DNA. There are only two sexes, male and female, no matter how they dress.

  • Bat

    The Super Bowl locations are planned out already to 2021 (2018 Minneapolis; 2019 Atlanta; 2020 Miami; 2021 Los Angeles). Texas is being threatened with a sometime-in-the-next-decade boycott? No matter what happens, Texas will still be playing great football.

  • Al Ligator

    Perhaps Texas should lead the charge to start a competing Pro League against the NFL. This would have to be led by the Cowboys and Texans, and perhaps they could get other NFL teams to follow.

    • Texas Bob

      That ain’t happenin’… each team gets $226.4M/year in TV money- that’s just the TV money… over $14B in total revenue… Jerry Jones and about 5 other owners are the ones who took the amazing league that Pete Rozelle created and turned it into the national passion.
      Jerry isn’t going rogue and risking losing his insane revenue streams for political reasons.

  • Sheila Lowe

    Wish our governor would pay more attention to the citizens of Texas, quit wasting tax money on lawsuits, and start helping Texas citizens. Who cares about a bathroom ten years from now!

    • BarksintheCountry

      The NFL, apparently.

  • wilson hungryhorse

    Gregg Abbott takes his R/R with him, so why should he care about other folks.. I can only hope and pray that Abbott is a ONE (1) term governor . Come on “Ass Party” lets get rid of this Rick Perry clone.

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    • Mark Slaymaker

      Oh so wrong, wilson hungryhorse. Abbott is an acolyte of the idiot Patrick rather than a Perry clone.

  • Wilbert Ray Green

    Elections are coming up. Time to rid our great state of this dictator wannabe and more importantly his cronie, sports talk show host Dan Patrick.

  • BarksintheCountry

    And we agree with the Governor telling the NFL to mind its own business and leave law-making in Texas to Texans.

    • Mark Slaymaker

      Well, no. When the NFL’s business overlaps with a city/state’s business, the city/state loses. The NFL can do pretty much what they want. Do I want a sports league orchestrating my life? No, but the NFL has a right to do whatever they want to, SB-wise anyway. There are no shareholders that they must look up to. The only positive in this godawful mess is that the next “Big Game” would be taken away (or never awarded to) Dallas. Sorry. Houston fan.

  • Mary Berry

    Greg Abbott is an idiot. That is all.

  • TomikiTom

    Thank you Governor Abbott for standing up to the NFL! They need to stay the hell out of politics and quit telling us how to run our states! How we conduct our states is none of their business, stick to playing football!

    • paine sense

      The business of the NFL is not football. It is business. Thus, all that matters, and rightly so, to the NFL is money. That is the American way. As President Coolidge said, “The chief business of the American people is business.” So, I applaud the NFL for being patriotic. Governor Abbott should get out of the NFL’s business and start being a patriot.

      • TomikiTom

        I disagree, the NFL’s business is centered around football, football is the main driver of its business. Without football as its business, the NFL would not exist. And who does the NFL depend on for their business, the American taxpayer who buys tickets to the games, buys their trademarked apparel and tunes in to the games. So I applaud Governor Abbott for standing up to the NFL and telling them to mind their own damn business! Play and conduct your business of football and don’t tell us how to run our states!

        • paine sense

          As a pro-business conservative, I respectfully disagree. The proper relationship between business and the State is for business to tell the State what to do, not for the State to tell business what to do. That is the essence of free enterprise and thus of democracy. If the NFL wants to take its business elsewhere or to insist that Texas must do what the NFL wants Texas to do in order to keep the NFL’s business, that is entirely proper for the NFL to do. Governor Abbott is advocating socialism without realizing what he is doing. I think he is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect–too stupid to know that he is stupid.

          • TomikiTom

            And as an attorney for a law firm, I have to respectfully disagree again. Each state has rules and regulations for businesses within it boundaries that spell out how these businesses are to conduct themselves. The business does not tell the State how it will conduct its business within the State. Hence the need for rules and regulations. It’s no different than the rules of fair practice or know your client regulations that FINRA sets down for brokerage firms and brokers. Without those rules in place clients would get taken advantage of all the time. If the NFL wants to take its business elsewhere, it’s free to do so but you cannot force a State to rethink its own internal policies simply because they don’t fall into line with the NFL’s policies. That is socialism. Do it or else, hunh?

          • Charlie

            Texas is not telling the NFL what to do, but the NFL is interfering with something that is NOT it’s business. SB 6 does not tell the NFL that they cannot have unisex restrooms. What it does say is that the NFL cannot force you and I to have unisex restrooms.

        • TexasTea71

          Branding is a big part of business, especially for consumer reliant entities. The NFL isn’t political. They are looking at the public sentiment, that is far more enlightened than that of the Texas state government. Not wanting to associate your multi-billion dollar brand with backward, misinformed and often bigoted views is an important business decision.

      • Charlie

        The NFL should get out of the god business. We believe in biology, genetics, and DNA. There are only two sexes, male and female, no matter how they dress. There is no way to change that fact. To believe otherwise is called a delusion.

  • Lee

    Greg Abbott really doesn’t understand the First Amendment does he

    • Charlie

      No, the problem is that the NFL does not understand the First Amendment. They also do not understand biology. Someone born male will remain male his entire life. Those born female will remain female their entire life. Humans have not yet found a way to alter this genetic fact. Males believing that they are women or vice versa is a mental problem called a delusion. The NFL wants everyone to believe that someone’s delusion is fact. A man who wears a dress is a transvestite and relatively harmless, but a man in the women’s restroom is a pervert, no matter what he wears. Provide separate facilities for them, but do not demand that I share their delusion.

      • Lee

        I love it when people arrogantly and definitely make statements that within the first sentence display their arrogance. Let me try to make this clear to a conservative for the 1000th time. The first Amendment does not apply to corporations, it relates to the relationship between the government and its citizens, not a corporation and its staff. FFS for a group that loves to wear tri-corner hats you would think you would at least read the constitution, just once, just so you can say you have if for no other reason

  • Wurty

    Eliminate urinals. Replace skirts and pants logo with “Public toilet” Stalls only.

  • Charlie

    No matter what the NFL wants us to believe, there are only two sexes – male and female. This is decided by the genes that are inherent in the human body. No matter how much you believe or desire you will still be the sex that your DNA assigns. Human beings have not yet found a way to change that. If you paint stripes on a puma it will not magically become a tiger. It will be a puma with stripes painted on. Put a man in a dress, he is still a man in a dress, not a woman. To believe otherwise is a mental condition call delusion. I have no problem with transvestites (the proper term in the English language) being provided separate facilities but it is ludicrous to demand that I share in their delusion and allow them to use the female restroom with my wife or daughter. When a male goes into the women’s restroom he is no longer a transvestite. He is a pervert. If the NFL believes that they can change someone’s sex by demanding, well, they can take themselves and their teams out of Texas and into an alternate reality. Of course, they will go without the money that we bring them.