The Raleigh-based Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League have decided to bite hard the hand that has fed it sumptuously. To wit I take you to the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, recently signed into law by North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and better known as the bathroom law. This is the bill that has made Bruce Springsteen of Born to Run fame run from North Carolina, as the bill would require people in public facilities to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender. Men are to use men’s rooms and women are to use women’s rooms. The horror!
The Carolina Hurricanes issued a statement not dissimilar to other sports teams in the state in protest of the bill, “The Carolina Hurricanes and PNC Arena are devoted to providing a welcoming and respectful environment for all fans. We stand against all forms of discrimination.” One is tempted to ask the Hurricanes if they really believe women would feel it was welcoming and a respectful environment at a Hurricanes game if when using the restroom, they noticed men using the same restroom as they are.
But such observations are beside the point. All organizations and all individuals have the right to criticize the government. This, however, gets a little trickier when criticizing your business partner, which is in essence what the Carolina Hurricanes and the State of North Carolina are.
In the not so distant past the Hartford Whalers were a fledgling hockey team in Connecticut that announced in May 1997 that they were moving to North Carolina, where by no coincidence, in July of that year, construction was to start on a $158 million arena known as PNC Bank Arena. You can guess the rest. A hefty portion of the funding for the arena came from a variety of taxpayer sources including a hotel and restaurant tax on the citizenry, funding from the General Assembly, and a large contribution from a State surrogate in the form of North Carolina State University. How entangled is the relationship between the Hurricanes and public money? PNC Arena is now owned by a public private partnership known as the Centennial Authority, and the management of the day to day operations of the arena is handled by the Hurricanes.
As maddening as this is for conservatives, something more troubling in the sports world has been brewing lately. Professional sports teams and associations, which for decades have been mostly apolitical, have recently started to become indistinguishable from your typical left-wing activist. For evidence you need look no further than the conservative South. In the last few weeks, between the bathroom law in North Carolina and the failed religious liberty law in Georgia, you have several of the major professional sports teams in those states come out hard against either religious freedom or for leftist gender policies. In Georgia both the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks, and the Atlanta Braves were opposed to the religious liberty bill, while in North Carolina the Charlotte Hornets and the Carolina Hurricanes issued statements showing solidarity with those who opposed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act.
What is eye raising about this development is that any honest sports marketing expert worth a darn could tell you that the average demographic that makes up the consumers of the professional sports product leans politically center right and certainly not hard left, which is the way professional sports teams and leagues are now trending. So why are teams becoming left-wing political activists even if it goes up against their customers’ values? For one, the left is great at targeting organizations for boycotts and protests, and when this happens conservatives have a tendency to yawn and chalk it up as just your typical left-wing tactics, while at the same time not providing threatened organizations any cover from the bullying. Organizations will eventually go the path of least resistance, hence the shift leftwards. The other factor at play is what has been called O’Sullivan’s Law, named after conservative editor and writer John O’Sullivan, which states that any organization or enterprise that is not expressly right wing will become left wing over time.
For decades conservatives sat back and watched and eventually accepted what should be nonpolitical entities, such as public schools, universities, mainstream media, Hollywood, unions, and so forth, evolve into well-funded, well-oiled shills of whatever policy issues the Democratic Party happens to be selling. Unless conservative politicians and sports fans push back, this will be the fate of professional sports as well.