Report: Jazz owner warned Utah legislature its transgender bill could cost state the NBA All-Star Game

Jack Baer
·Writer
·4-min read

A Utah bill that would have barred transgender students from competing on girls sports team stalled in a state senate committee last month. The state's local basketball team might have played a part in that.

Days before the bill's demise, Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith and team president Jim Olson took part in a backroom meeting discussing the bill with Rep. Kera Birkeland, the bill's sponsor, and a handful of other legislators and parties, according to Bryan Schott of The Salt Lake Tribune.

During the meeting, which Birkeland confirmed took place to the Tribune, Smith reportedly expressed concerns about the bill's impact on transgender youth and a backlash that could cost the state the 2023 NBA All-Star Game. The report did not indicate the meeting was contentious, just "very frank."

From The Tribune:

Smith was reportedly worried about the impact the legislation could have on transgender youth, stressing there are kids who don’t feel supported and the bill would not do anything to help with that perception. Smith also reportedly said he did not feel the proposal was ready for wide exposure.

Birkeland says Smith did raise those concerns but felt his main point was her proposal could cause a backlash that might result in the Jazz losing the opportunity to host the NBA All-Star Game in 2023.

“That was my biggest takeaway, that they had concerns about losing the All-Star game if this moved forward,” Birkeland said.

The Jazz were awarded the 2023 All-Star Game back in 2019 after a $125 million renovation of the Vivint Arena. Utah has not hosted an All-Star game since 1993.

The meeting also reportedly discussed the bill's potential impact on Salt Lake City's bit to host the 2030 or 2034 Winter Olympics.

The date of the meeting is not specified, though it is noted that the bill died in a state committee soon after the discussion. The bill, which was passed by the Utah house on Feb. 17, reportedly had to undergo multiple revisions after Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said he was "not comfortable" with the ball as written. Subsequent meetings led to a bill the governor approved of, but Birkeland reportedly said she "just didn't feel good about it."

The senate committee adjourned on Feb. 24 without taking a vote, tabling the issue for now, per the Tribune.

NBA did something similar after North Carolina's bathroom bill

If all of this sounds familiar, it's because the NBA did almost the same exact thing in response to another bill affecting transgender rights in 2016.

After North Carolina passed its bathroom bill, which required transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate, the NBA opted to pull the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte. The game was eventually relocated to New Orleans.

The NBA later allowed Charlotte to host the 2019 All-Star Game, but only after North Carolina partially repealed the bill in 2017. A lengthy legal battle eventually resulted in a federal judge approving a settlement that affirmed transgender people's right to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

The league wasn't alone among large businesses in publicly opposing the bill and pulling business in retaliation. One economic analysis later found that North Carolina's bill ended up costing the state more than $3 billion in lost business over a dozen years.

Utah's bill one of many transgender sports bills

While Utah's bill is dead (perhaps just temporarily), several other bills banning transgender athletes from competing in school sports are being actively pushed, if not already passed.

Mississippi became the first state to pass such a bill last week, one of more than 20 around the country. The bills are a Republican response to President Joe Biden's executive order banning discrimination based on gender identity in schools and other areas.

Another bill banning transgender athletes from sports has been recently introduced in the Ohio state legislature. Next year's NBA All-Star game is scheduled to be held in Cleveland. Per ABC News, other states with NBA teams that are considering such bills include Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Georgia, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Florida.

While conservatives lawmakers have been eager to push these bills, one area in which they have been quiet is identifying actual examples where transgender athletes have been a problem. An Associated Press poll of two dozen state lawmakers found such cases to be essentially non-existent. The North Carolina bathroom bill had the same issue, with fact-checkers finding no instances of sexual predators using transgender protections to assault people in bathrooms.

Like many other bill sponsors, Birkeland reportedly claimed the bill was meant to be a proactive measure "before we have a 16-year-old child who's caught a headline, or school or community torn apart."

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