Often reticent about getting involved in divisive politics, the sporting world has been on quite an activist roll when it comes to North Carolina.
It started with the NBA stripping away its lucrative All-Star Game from Charlotte because of a state law that limits protections for LGBT people. The NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference followed suit this week, reclaiming a host of major events including the first and seconds rounds of the men’s basketball tournament and the ACC football championship.
There’s still room to dole out more financial pain, but that would require NASCAR and golf — two entities with a hefty stake in the Tar Heel state — to step up.
Not going to happen.
NASCAR, which has its headquarters, its hall of fame and one of its biggest races in the Charlotte area, is not the least bit inclined to get involved in the fight over HB2, the so-called bathroom law.
Already struggling to fill seats and draw television viewers, the organization is undoubtedly mindful that its conservative fan base wouldn’t take kindly to anything that sounds the least bit progressive.
Ditto for golf, another sport that it’s fair to say comes down largely on the right side of the political spectrum. There’s zero chance that next year’s PGA Championship will be held anywhere other than Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club or, looking much further down the road, that the 2024 U.S. Open won’t be held at Pinehurst.
Let’s face it: If you’re on a quest for social justice, better look elsewhere.
Nothing to see here.
NASCAR czar Brian France could’ve made quite a splash by threatening to move his company’s headquarters to a more-inclusive state or pull the two races held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway — one on Memorial Day weekend, the other part of the end-of-the-season playoff.
Instead, he’s continually talked out of both sides of his mouth, expressing opposition to the law but not doing anything to show he’s really displeased.
“We don’t agree with the law,” he said again this week. “Anything that has a discriminating component to it, we are not in favor of it. I have voiced my views directly to the governor. We are working with the governor to express our disappointment in that bill. But we don’t write legislation. We are going to continue to work behind the scenes to express our values and the things that we think are important.”
The PGA of America sounded a similar theme when asked about holding its 2017 championship in a state that not only requires transgender people to use restrooms that match the gender on their birth certificate, but excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from any sort of statewide antidiscrimination protections.
“We are trying to do everything we can, as part of our strategic plan for our organization in golf, to make the game as inclusive as possible,” said Pete Bevacqua, the PGA’s chief executive officer. “We’re not perfect. We’re trying.”
Not trying hard enough.
Then again, when has golf — or NACAR, for that matter — ever taken a leading role to make society more inclusive?
Golf had a “Caucasian-only” clause in its rulebook until 1961, kept holding tournaments at private clubs that discriminated against African-Americans and other ethnic and religious groups until the early 1990s, and continues to grapple with the issue of male-only memberships. NASCAR has its roots in the segregationist South and only in recent years took a stand against the Confederate flag.
Bevacqua has made it clear that next year’s PGA Championship will be held at Quail Hollow, no matter what happens with HB2 after the November election.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a strong supporter of the law, is running for another term, even while facing condemnation from a broad spectrum that also includes musicians and the businesses community.
More troubling, Bevacqua wouldn’t even commit to the PGA of American barring another major championship from being awarded to North Carolina if the law remains on the books.
“We’ll see how it goes next year,” he said recently during this year’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol. “We think it’s going to be and we know it’s going to be a wonderful championship when you get to the site and when the best players in the world descend on that golf course and play a golf course that they will never have seen in terms of the changes that have been made.”
See, it doesn’t matter what’s going on outside the gates as long as the greens are in tip-top condition.
Bevacqua went on to parrot the message that France has been regurgitating over and over again: Hey, there’s only so much a multibillion-dollar industry can do, despite all evidence to the contrary.
“We can’t control the policies, the rules and the regulations around the country and municipalities and states,” Bevacqua said. “We can only do what we can do. And we’ll try to make that PGA Championship — like we do every PGA Championship — enjoyable, inclusive, and shine a great light on our organization and the game of golf.”
Too bad he’s not willing to shine that bright light on what matters.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .