Monday, March 21, 2016

Can Religion Determine a Super Bowl Host?

Football and religion have served as competing interests on Sunday for several generations of Americans. However, religion may be playing a greater role on perhaps the most recognized football game of all, the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl hosts are usually determined at least three to five years prior to the game being played. The finalists are analyzed based on a variety of factors including appropriate climate, sufficient seating and parking spaces for patrons, and fields for teams to practice prior to the game. A city that is fortunate enough to be named a host sees a boost in its local economy, especially for restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions.

The Atlanta Falcons are one of the teams that are attempting to host either 2019 or 2020 edition of the Super Bowl. The Georgia state legislature recently introduced a Religious Freedom Bill that would prevent businesses from discriminating potential applicants based on race, nationality, religion, and sex. This act would allow for Georgia to match the requirements of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, this new bill does not guarantee these freedoms to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, veteran status, or disability. Beth Beskin, a Republican within the state's House of Representatives, believes that the local government, rather than the federal government, has the ability to determine what additional employment protections can be added beyond the bill's protections. A second bill was passed by the same committee, the Pastor Protection Act would not require pastors within Georgia's jurisdiction to not be required to legally recognize same sex couples.

The National Football League's (NFL) spokesman Brian McCarthy stated that "they emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and other standards." McCarthy added that the state's consistency with federal laws and league policy could hinder the ability for the Falcons' bid to be successful. Georgia is currently one of the five states that does not include a public accommodation law. In addition, Georgia had an amendment in its state constitution which prevented same sex marriages from occurring before the Supreme Court ruled same sex marriages were legal on June 25. 2015.

I believe that Georgia's bid to host to a potential Super Bowl should be evaluated based on the inclusiveness of its citizens in modern political issues. Many people use athletes as role models for their kids to idolize. By promoting a wide background of individuals that entertain people on Sundays, the NFL connects with people from various walks of life and political views. With the Supreme Court recently ruling that same sex marriage is legal, it is important for all institutions in America to follow the law of the land. By not guaranteeing the First Amendment protections to all of its citizens, the federal government has a compelling state interest to monitor the standards passed by Georgia's state legislature. In addition, Georgia is risking a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment which requires federal statutes be respected by the individual states. If the NFL were to allow Atlanta to host either of these games, it would send a message to the LGBT community and other minorities that they are not part of the audience the league wants to cater to.

In addition, the standards that were applied in the Sherbert vs. Verner decision can be extrapolated. The Super Bowl bid is a potential form of compensation for the host city by the NFL. In the Sherbert decision it was determined that the eligibility restrictions hindered her ability to accept available suitable work to match her preference to observe Saturday as a day of worship as a Seventh Day Adventist. The benefits were also essential for her economic survival. Unlike the circumstances that occurred in the case, the league can use the criteria of state policy prior to when it awards a city the honor of hosting the Super Bowl. The city would not be allowed to choose its duty between observing its religion and potentially hosting a large national audience. The panel that eventually chooses who would host the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls would also have potential alternates waiting to take this form of compensation.

Finally, the league has already previously denied a Super Bowl bid to a city for not following a national observance. The city of Phoenix, Arizona, which had won the right to host the 1993 Super Bowl, refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day in 1990. As a result, the 1993 Super Bowl's location was then awarded to Los Angeles, California, which recognized the holiday. The city of Phoenix would eventually recognize the national holiday in 1992 and would receive the honor to host the Super Bowl in 1996 and in 2008. Atlanta would be facing a similar punishment if they did not amend the Religious Freedom Bill to include sexual orientation protections.

If you were on the panel, would this issue sway your decision for the city of Atlanta to host the Super Bowl?


Rosalie said...

I would agree with your argument, especially because the NFL is a private organization, so they are allowed to pick and choose which places they want to host the Superbowl. Their actions could potentially change the minds of many football fans. If I were a member of the panel, the precedent of Arizona would certainly sway my decision. Furthermore, often times the government has trouble legislating against hateful discrimination because of the First Amendment, so it is good that an organization not affiliated with the government is promoting equality.

Maddie G said...

I agree with Rosalie. The NFL is a private organization and if it disagrees with the policies of a potential host city, it has the right to choose to plan a Superbowl elsewhere. The NFL should choose a city where fans can come to the Superbowl without the threat of potential discrimination. As in the case of the 1993 Superbowl, the NFL has the ultimate say in where the Superbowl takes place and should be allowed to change the location as it sees fit.

nick paray said...

I don't really see how this is a legal issue. The laws exist in Georgia in accordance with legal precedent and have no reason for contention. The NFL is simply a private organization that bears responsibility in deciding where they hold their games. They should be able to choose--and not choose--any city to host the super bowl based on any criteria. Ideally, the NFL should use factors such as revenue potential to choose the cities, but nothing should be able to stop them from making a judgement based on social policies.

Houtan Bozorghadad said...

I agree with Nick because this is a private organization and they have the right to choose which city the Super Bowl should be hosted in. The reasonable counter would be that there is a compelling state interest for the government to intervene, but as Jim mentioned, the league has had a case similar with Arizona where there state did not follow a national observance and the league handled it in an appropriate manner.