N.C. can’t claim moral victory

Luke DeCock - The News & Observer

You think basketball recruiting is dirty? (It is.) North Carolina politics makes basketball recruiting look like a bake sale.

Thursday’s partial repeal of House Bill 2 may have done just enough to satisfy the NCAA and save basketball, but that’s about all.

“I believe sports are coming back,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.

“This may satisfy the NCAA,” Progress NC, an advocacy group, protested, “but many in our state still feel left behind.”

That’s been the worst part of dealing with HB2 fallout from the beginning: When you focus on the economic costs, whether it’s business or basketball, you forget those costs are imposed on North Carolina because the state hasn’t shown it respects people those organizations respect.

There are real people, real lives, hurt by HB2 far more than basketball fans. This inadequate, necessary replacement for a stupid, unnecessary law — repealing HB2 itself but extending restrictions on local anti-discrimination laws through 2020 — helps the latter far more than the former.

It’s hard to celebrate fending off disaster with the NCAA when North Carolina remains one of the least welcoming and inclusive states in the nation. But Cooper said House Bill 142 allows employers and organizations like the NCAA and ACC to demand whatever LGBT protections they desire from arenas and from contractors, which HB2 prohibited.

The sporting stakes are not small: Five years of upcoming NCAA events, the 2019 and 2020 ACC basketball tournaments and other ACC events, the viability of MLS expansion bids in Raleigh and Charlotte and the NBA All-Star Game all rest on how this partial repeal is perceived.

While all indications are the NCAA and ACC looked favorably upon the compromise, neither NCAA President Mark Emmert nor ACC Commissioner John Swofford was willing to come out and say that Thursday.

“The Board of Governors will determine whether or not this bill that was recently passed today was a sufficient change in the law for the board to feel comfortable going back to North Carolina,” Emmert said, something he expected to happen early next week.

For the ACC’s part, Swofford said in a statement that the new legislation allows the ACC’s presidents to “reopen the discussion” about holding neutral-site events in North Carolina.

Whether this partial repeal, as opposed to full repeal, passes NCAA muster remains an open question. When the NCAA took its initial stand on HB2, it listed four specific objections to North Carolina’s law, as opposed to similar laws in other states.

The main point was that HB2 invalidated any local laws that “treat sexual orientation as a protected class or has a purpose to prevent discrimination against” LGBT people. If anything, HB142 reinforces that with its moratorium, especially in places like Charlotte, which repealed its own anti-discrimination ordinance as part of December’s failed repeal deal.

“There were four distinct problems that the board had with that bill,” Emmert said. “They’ve removed some of them now, but not all of them. The question the board will be debating is, if you remove two or three of them, is that enough relative to other states?”

In the end, everyone should save some face. The NCAA gets enough political cover to come back to North Carolina, a profitable partner for that organization. Cooper gets to declare victory on repeal, even if large portions of his constituency are outraged by the terms. The Republican majority accepts defeat on HB2 itself but extends the moratorium on local anti-discrimination laws from the six months originally proposed in December all the way out to 2020.

The worst parts of HB2 may be gone. We’re told this is better than nothing, and of course it is, yet that’s such a low bar to clear. The terrible, bitter taste of our state-sanctioned bigotry remains, even if it’s fainter than it was.

Basketball may be back, and that’s great, but North Carolina still has a lot of work to do.

Luke DeCock

The News & Observer

Luke DeCock is a columnist at the News & Observer (Raleigh). Readers may email him at [email protected]

Luke DeCock is a columnist at the News & Observer (Raleigh). Readers may email him at [email protected]