When Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947, he faced indignities such as being denied hotel rooms and service at restaurants due to his race.
Ken Burns’ new documentary about Robinson, which aired this week on PBS, shows some of the progress we’ve since made as a country. But legislation recently passed in Mississippi and North Carolina brings our country back to a time when denying services and accommodations to a group of people is allowed under the law.
Last week, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill into law that purports to be about religious freedom. Instead, the law amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination. It protects those who deny services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals due to religious beliefs.
The law follows North Carolina’s passage of a bill banning transgender individuals from using bathrooms at state facilities that don’t match their birth sex. The law also prevents local governments in that state from implementing anti-discrimination ordinances.
These laws have rightly received blowback from businesses, governments, entertainers and others. Florida should follow the lead of cities and states such as Connecticut, Minnesota and Washington, which have prohibited their employees from using government funds to take any nonessential trips to Mississippi and North Carolina.
Musical performers have also started cancelling concerts in those states, including Bruce Springsteen in North Carolina and Bryan Adams in Mississippi. The online payments company PayPal canceled plans to open an operations center in Charlotte.
If Gov. Rick Scott wants to draw businesses from other states, taking a decisive stand against discrimination would be a good way to do it. Florida would be better positioned to attract companies such as PayPal if it finally passed a long-stalled bill banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Businesses with significant operations in Florida such as Disney have already played a part in pushing for equal protections. When Georgia lawmakers considered allowing LGBT individuals to be denied services, Disney said it wouldn’t film there if the bill became law. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ended up vetoing the measure.
Sports leagues have also taken a significant role. The NBA is reconsidering whether to hold a planned All-Star Game in Charlotte, while the NCAA has said it was reviewing plans for the men’s basketball tournament in North Carolina. The NCAA should be more forceful, given that these laws open up its student-athletes to being denied accommodations and services.
The University of Florida’s athletic teams make regular trips to the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, which are also members of the Southeastern Conference, including a trip by the softball team to Ole Miss last weekend. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said this week that the conference would take Mississippi’s law into consideration when deciding the sites of neutral-site events.
With that kind of tepid response, Florida should go further. Not only should the state prohibit its employees from taking nonessential trips to Mississippi and North Carolina, it should instruct the athletic teams at its state universities to avoid taking road trips to those states. Doing so not only sends a statement, it protects LGBT student-athletes from being subjected to discrimination.
Much like when Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, sports leagues should continue being a force for social change. Just as black athletes being denied services and accommodations is so obviously an injustice in retrospect, history will not look kindly on these anti-LGBT laws.
We shouldn’t wait to take a stand. Florida’s government, businesses and sports teams should join in putting pressure on Mississippi and North Carolina to reject state-sanctioned discrimination.