American football's NFL is coming under pressure to remove the 2015 Super Bowl from Arizona if a new state bill is introduced that would allow businesses to deny services to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people due to religious beliefs.
The USA Today newspaper said that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has until Saturday to either veto or sign the bill, or let the controversial bill become law. The 2015 Super Bowl was awarded to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale in October 2011 and the NFL’s showpiece event is due to take place on February 1 next year.
The growing controversy over the bill comes as the league prepares to welcome its first openly gay player in Michael Sam, the Missouri linebacker who came out this month, while Jason Collins recently played his first game for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets as the first openly gay active player in the country’s four major sports leagues. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said: “Our policies emphasise tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. We are following the issue in Arizona and will continue to do so should the bill be signed into law, but will decline further comment at this time.”
“The NFL is putting a lot of pressure on the governor (behind the scenes) to veto the bill, from what I can tell,” Sam's public relations representative, Howard Bragman, told USA Today Sports. “I know the host committee has said, 'Veto it.' And I know (NFL franchise) Arizona Cardinals have said, 'Veto it.' I know the NFL is very concerned and watching this very closely.”
The bill was written by the conservative-advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy and the Christian legal organisation Alliance Defending Freedom. It was drawn up after a New Mexico legal battle involving a wedding photographer who told a lesbian couple that she would not photograph their commitment ceremony in 2006 because it clashed with her religious beliefs. The photographer was sued for sexual-orientation discrimination and lost in the New Mexico Supreme Court.
The NFL has prior history when it comes to stripping Super Bowl hosting rights from Arizona. In 1990, then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue threatened to move the 1993 game out of Arizona if the state refused to recognise Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Voters rejected the holiday, leading to the NFL moving the 1993 Super Bowl to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.