Picture it: February 2015, Glendale, Arizona. Michael Goodell, the brother of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, is in town for the Super Bowl. Michael Goodell is gay. He has also garnered media attention in recent months by encouraging the NFL to accept and be welcoming of NFL prospect Michael Sam and all players regardless of their sexuality. Michael Goodell attempts to walk into a Glendale coffee shop for a snack on the day before the big game. The owner recognizes him from the recent press coverage, denies him service and tells him to leave. Michael Goodell, used to a red carpet and not a slap in the face, refuses. The owner calls the police and has the commissioner’s brother arrested because his very presence violates the owner’s religious principles and therefore the laws of Arizona.
This would be the fate of LGBT people throughout Arizona if Governor Jan Brewer signs Senate Bill 1062 this Friday. Not content with codifying the racial profiling of immigrants, the Arizona Senate wants to bring yet another twenty-first-century variant of Jim Crow segregation to their state. Brewer has given some early indication that she would not sign the bill, but we have heard precious little from an NFL who by threatening to move the Super Bowl, could cost the state millions in revenue and even more in prestige. So far, all we have heard from the league came from their spokesman Greg Aiello who stated, “Our policies emphasize 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.”
This is weak sauce. Roger Goodell should be threatening to pull the Big Game out of the state unless Brewer vetoes the law, not only because it’s the right thing to do but because it would be a show of support to Arizona’s own Super Bowl host committee, which said in a written statement, “We do not support this legislation.”
If Goodell threatened to pull the game, he would be following the precedent of his predecessor Paul Tagliabue who, in 1990, moved the 1993 Super Bowl out of Arizona because of the state’s refusal to recognize Martin Luther King Day. I spoke with Wade Davis, former NFL player and executive director of the You Can Play project. He recalled that previous show of courage under the previous commissioner, saying, “Similar to 1993 when the NFL moved the Super Bowl [out of Arizona] due to the state’s failed recognition of MLK Day, I firmly believe the NFL will stand in solidarity with human rights advocates who oppose the bill and move the 2015 Super Bowl.”
The Arizona Cardinals have not commented on pulling the Super Bowl, but they did e-mail us their displeasure with the bill. The team wrote, “What so many love about football is its ability to bring people together. We do not support anything that has the potential to divide, exclude and discriminate. As a prominent and highly-visible member of this community, we strive to bring positive attention to the state. We are concerned with anything that creates a negative perception of Arizona and those of us who are fortunate to call it home.”
While we all wait for Roger Goodell to say something about this bill, news emerged this week that the NFL is considering Arizona as the future site of the Pro Bowl. In other words, while the nation recoils at Jan Brewer’s pariah state, Roger Goodell—blinders firmly in place—lumbers forward, doing business with a place that should be seen as radioactive.
It is time for the commissioner to act even if it hurts the men who pay his obscene $44 million salary. Here we have a league that is trying to project itself as welcoming to players who want to be open and honest about their sexuality. They cannot do that and hold the Super Bowl or the Pro Bowl in a state that proudly projects itself as a bastion of intolerance. They cannot put NFL employees, players and family members in a situation where they would be unsafe. Roger Goodell has said all the right things in recent weeks about the league being an open and inclusive environment. He needs to be told that words, when not matched with deeds, are very cheap. For $44 million a year, one would think he could afford to do better.
Read Next: Dave Zirin interviews Wade Davis on Michael Sam and homophobia in the NFL.