What’s Killing Religious-Liberty Bills? Big-Money Sports.

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Atlanta's plan for the new stadium.

On Tuesday, the sports community in Kansas City began to worry about a proposal in Missouri that would allow people and groups to deny jobs and services to transgender people. The Kansas City Sports Commission said that the proposed bill, which has already passed the state Senate, would cost the state more than $50 million annually in lost revenue and businesses. 

The commission further argued that the bill would encourage amateur and professional leagues to move their events to places more closely aligned with their policies (read: states that don’t legally discriminate). The NCAA, along with Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey, have said that they would reconsider locating championship events in Missouri if the bill went through.

Just a day earlier, Georgia governor Nathan Deal vetoed his state’s religious-exemptions bill amid a series of similar threats of business boycotts. An especially strong threat came from the NFL. Georgia is the home of the Atlanta Falcons, who are building a $1.4 billion stadium (with a retractable roof) and it has made them the front-runners for the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020. Everyone in the state with a cash register wants that. So when the NFL made it clear that signing the bill would hurt Atlanta’s chance of hosting the big game, that was the last straw for the bill. Sports-industrial complex 1, religious-exemptions bill 0. Unexpectedly, the jocks have turned out to be the unlikely guardians of LBGT rights.

Last week, North Carolina passed a bill that prohibits local governments from protecting the civil rights of their gay and transgender citizens and amidst much outrage, the sports backlash has already begun. On Thursday, the NBA threatened to move the 2017 all-star game out of Charlotte.