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Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Inside Slant: Move Super Bowl XLIX?

By Kevin Seifert

How will the NFL react if Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer approves SB 1062, a bill that would give businesses a right to refuse services based on religious freedom? Would it move Super Bowl XLIX, currently scheduled for next February at the University of Phoenix Stadium?

That question remained relevant Tuesday, and the answer a no-brainer at least to me, as Brewer considered her options with the bill -- which has been widely interpreted as the legalization of discrimination against gays and lesbians in Arizona. Brewer is under heavy political pressure to veto, according to the Arizona Republic, and a decision is due by Friday.

Let's be clear: I can't envision a scenario in which the NFL plays the Super Bowl in Arizona if Brewer allows the bill to become law. There is already an Arizona-specific league precedent for shifting the game site, and the league's policy -- as articulated in anticipation of its first openly gay player -- puts it in direct opposition.

To date, the league hasn't directly addressed what it would do in this case. But in a statement, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello made clear that league policies "emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard." The statement concluded: "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 final sentence intentionally left all options open. The NFL notably withdrew Super Bowl XXVII from Phoenix after the state abolished the Martin Luther King holiday, and the stakes for Super Bowl XLIX appear just as serious.

It's true that the NFL awarded this game to Arizona long before SB 1062 became an issue. But part of the Super Bowl bid for any site is to remain in compliance with all NFL rules and policies. The guess here, based on the NFL's statement, is that Arizona would run afoul of that requirement under SB 1062.

The logistics of moving a Super Bowl less than a year out would be a nightmare for NFL employees, but it wouldn't compare to the fallout of playing in a state that provides an authorized platform for discrimination. In essence, it would represent a tacit endorsement of the policy. I can't believe the NFL would want to send that message, and let's hope it never comes to that.