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Analysis: Could 2023 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City be in jeopardy because of HB11?

There is precedent and the NBA could pull the All-Star Game out of Utah

SHARE Analysis: Could 2023 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City be in jeopardy because of HB11?
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver announces that the 2023 NBA All-Star game will be held at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

A special session of the Utah Legislature is set to take place Friday in order to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of HB11, a bill that would ban transgender girls from competing in girls high school sports events.

If HB11 becomes law, there could be ramifications that extend well beyond the world of Utah high school sports, including the state potentially having the 2023 All-Star Game pulled as a result of the controversial bill.

It’s necessary to point out that the most devastating ramifications of HB11 would be to those who could be negatively impacted by this bill, who are already vulnerable members of our community and who experience discrimination and have little to no say in what is being decided about their lives.

It’s also important to understand that there is currently only one transgender girl playing on a girls high school sports team in Utah (the Utah High School Athletic Association said it knows of only four students who are transgender athletes — with only one of those transgender student-athletes playing on a girls team), and that the bill was originally rushed through in the final hours of a recent legislative session without public comment, debate or input.

While the potential harm to individuals this bill could impact, fair policy implementation, and prominent community figures opposing the bill has not forced a change of heart for those seeking to override the governor’s veto and has not deterred lawmakers from wanting to push through this legislation, maybe the financial ramifications of passing such a bill will.

First, as Cox pointed out in his five-page letter attached to his veto, HB11 as constructed has the potential to be backbreaking for the UHSAA.

The UHSAA is a private organization and runs the real risk of insolvency and bankruptcy, putting our entire state athletics program in danger. Having just completed a lengthy and very expensive lawsuit, the organization does not have significant reserves on hand. Furthermore, the UHSAA has been clear that if the state ever attempted a ban, the state would also need to provide indemnification to hold the organization harmless in the forthcoming lawsuit. Unfortunately, HB11 provides no financial protection for the UHSAA, only an explicit invitation for a lawsuit. With several lawsuits already being litigated across the country, why would Utah insist — even encourage — expensive and debilitating legal action with no recourse for the organization that serves our own student athletes and schools? I hope you can agree that if we want to protect women’s sports, bankrupting the institution that is responsible for their participation is a bad place to start.

Secondly, the 2023 NBA All-Star Game, which is set to be hosted by the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City and expected to have a direct economic impact of upwards of $50 million, could be in jeopardy if the bill is passed.

Though the league has not said outright that it would move the All-Star events to another city if HB11 is passed, precedent would seem to point to the game being pulled, and the NBA is watching the situation.

“We’re working closely with the Jazz on this matter,” NBA spokesperson Mike Bass told the Deseret News.

A 2016 North Carolina bill (HB2) that limited anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and compelled schools and government facilities to only allow people to use bathrooms that corresponded with the gender that they were assigned at birth, led to the NBA moving the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte.

The city was later able to host the event in 2019, after the bill had been repealed.

Other major sports leagues as well as the NCAA have also pulled top-tier events from cities when legislation in the host states have been deemed discriminatory, including MLB pulling its 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta when Georgia passed a restrictive voting law.

The Utah Jazz organization has yet to comment on the situation. But minority owner Dwyane Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union are parents to a transgender daughter and have been very public in their support of her and in their advocacy of inclusion.

Jazz majority owner Ryan Smith took to social media this week in opposition to HB11 saying, “We need to love these kids. This bill was rushed, flawed, and won’t hold up over time. I’m hopeful we can find a better way.”

As the Deseret News Editorial Board put it: “HB11 scores political points without consideration for the consequences to transgender students, or to the costs of waging an expensive taxpayer-funded lawsuit.”

Additionally, the state could be at risk of losing out on events like the NBA All-Star Game, which could be a huge boon for the local economy.