Yesterday, the fine people of Houston decided they wanted no part of equal rights, voting down the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO. The ordinance banned discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as 13 other classes already protected by federal law, when it was passed by the City Council in May 2014. Critics of HERO filed a lawsuit soon after and in July the Texas Supreme Court ordered the council to either repeal the ordinance or put it to a referendum, so here we are.
As it happens, Houston is set to host the upcoming NCAA Men's Final Four. This makes two years in a row that the Final Four host city is embroiled in an equal rights controversy. Indiana, the 2015 Final Four's host state, passed a law granting businesses the right to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples, leading to, among other things, the total decimation of Memories Pizza's Yelp ratings. At the time, the NCAA, which lists "diversity, inclusion and gender equity among its student-athletes, coaches and administrators" as a core value, responded to the Indiana law in a statement from president Mark Emmert:
"The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events. We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week's Men's Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."
With Houston voting to repeal HERO, the NCAA again finds itself hosting perhaps its biggest event in a city that legally permits the contradiction of its core values of inclusion. What is their response? Why, it's statement, this time from Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men's basketball championships:
"The NCAA remains committed to hosting the Final Four and its many fan-related events in Houston so they are open and accessible for all. The NCAA has no plans to move the 2016 Final Four, as it takes years to plan and implement this world-class event. We will continue our work with the Houston Local Organizing Committee to provide an inclusive environment for the student-athletes competing in and visitors attending our games and events in April. This vote, however, could impact the NCAA returning to Houston for a future Final Four. There are many factors in a thorough bid process that the NCAA considers when determining what cities will host the Final Four, including but not limited to local, city and state laws and ordinances."
It all raises the question of why an organization even has core values if it's going to wind up regularly hosting events in cities that violate them.
Speaking of violating core values, Houston is also hosting the Super Bowl in 2017, and the NFL issued the following statement to VICE Sports:
"This will not affect our plans for Super Bowl LI in 2017. We will work closely with the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee to make sure all fans feel welcomed at our events. Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard."
So, nothing is going to change. Keep fighting the good fight, sports.