When voters in Houston took to the polls in November 2015, they decided overwhelmingly that LGBT people do not deserve any protections against discrimination. Just 15 months ago 61% of the voters in America’s fourth-largest city said people should have no protections based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Yet even with the legalized discrimination against LGBT people, and with calls to move the game, the NFL decided it was appropriate to host Super Bowl LI in Houston. Despite a warning coming 15 months in advance, the league said emphatically that it stood by Houston and did not care that anti-LGBT discrimination had been legalized.
“This will not affect our plans for Super Bowl LI in 2017,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in November 2015. “We will work closely with the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee to make sure all fans feel welcomed at our events.”
It might have not affected the NFL’s plans, but the decision by Houston’s voters to overturn an ordinance protecting LGBT rights has affected the plans of Outsports. We declined to apply for media credentials to the Super Bowl as a protest against the stripping of the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. We had covered the previous two Super Bowls credentialed each time by the NFL.
The NFL’s views on the matter are desperately short-sighted. While the NFL can help control the environment at the NFL Experience and the actual game in NRG Stadium, they have no influence over the restaurants, hotels and other accommodations that consume the vast majority of interactions made by visitors to the Super Bowl host city.
LGBT fans, players, coaches and members of the media were suddenly subject to legalized discrimination based exclusively on who they love and who they are.
The NFL continued this drifting away from a commitment to inclusion last spring when it chose to not move its league owners meeting from Charlotte despite the state of North Carolina mandating discrimination against transgender people. While various members of the sports media covering Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have come out publicly as trans, in 2016 no member of the media specifically covering the NFL was publicly out as trans (columnist Christine Daniels is sadly no longer with us).
To be fair, the NFL’s choice to keep the Super Bowl in Houston does not impugn the overall commitment to inclusion of so many people in the league’s front office. Outsports has received personal invitations from the front office to be involved in the league’s annual owners meeting, Super Bowl and NFL Honors over the last three years. Plus we firmly believe NFL executives would have loved for Michael Sam to be on an NFL team roster at some point.
The league did make a gesture in the preseason during its game in Orlando between the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins, and the league front office has a relationship with You Can Play and former NFL Europe player Wade Davis. In addition, Outsports was credentialed to cover the Orlando Pro Bowl and our writer Jeremy Brener spoke with 14 NFL players who said they would welcome a gay teammate.
The NFL is not an inherently anti-LGBT institution at the player level or in the front offices. Sadly, however, protection of LGBT fans, players and members of the media is not a priority of the league. It cannot claim that it is.
Given the location of Super Bowl LI, Outsports simply cannot in good conscience attend the league’s Super Bowl in a city that so enthusiastically legalized discrimination against LGBT people. It would also have been hypocritical given that our stance was to move the game. We realize our gesture is mostly symbolic, but we believe symbols are important.
We look forward to being a part of the league’s celebration in 2018 in the city of Minneapolis, which protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination.