POLITICS

This Wouldn't Be The First Time Bigots In Arizona Lost The State A Super Bowl

02/24/2014 05:13 pm ET | Updated Feb 24, 2014
ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- Arizona state lawmakers have thrust Super Bowl XLIX into the center of controversy, even though the game, set to be played in Glendale, Ariz., is still a year away.

Last week, the state legislature passed SB 1062, which would allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples on the grounds of religious freedom. The bill now is in the hands of Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who has not indicated whether she will sign it into law.

But if she does, opponents of the legislation -- including members of the business community -- have warned that it may jeopardize Arizona hosting a successful 2015 Super Bowl, or any Super Bowl at all.

Last week, Greater Phoenix Economic Council President Barry Broome sent Brewer a letter warning, "With major events approaching in the coming year, including Super Bowl XLIX, Arizona will be the center of the world's stage. This legislation has the potential of subjecting the Super Bowl, and major events surrounding it, to the threats of boycotts."

On Monday, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) said he wouldn't be surprised if the NFL looks to move the Super Bowl if Brewer signs the bill.

If that happens, it wouldn't be the first time the state loses a Super Bowl due to bigotry.

Arizona was supposed to host the 1993 Super Bowl in Tempe, just outside Phoenix. But in 1990, the NFL began worrying that the state had refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday -- a failure that may have led to uncomfortable boycotts and demonstrations.

Norman Braman, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and chairman of the Super Bowl site committee at the time, told The New York Times, "'I discussed this three times today with several Arizona officials, including the mayor and Arizona congressmen, and I believe they will get it done. But if in the process the King holiday and name becomes smeared there, I will personally lead a move to rescind this Super Bowl bid. We just wouldn't go there. How would anybody in their right mind go in there and play?"

Jim Finks, the New Orleans Saints' general manager, similarly said that if there were boycotts and demonstrations, "I think we all would be happy to rescind that Super Bowl bid."

In November, however, Arizona voters went to the polls and rejected a referendum that would have honored the civil rights leader. Less than 12 hours later, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue took the Super Bowl away from Arizona, costing the state about $100 million in economic impact.

"I don't believe playing Super Bowl XXVII in Arizona is in the best interest of the NFL," Tagliabue said in a statement at the time. "I will recommend to NFL clubs that this Super Bowl be played elsewhere. I am confident they will follow the recommendation. Arizona can continue its political debate without the Super Bowl as a factor."

Super Bowl XXVII ended up being played in Pasadena, Calif.

Arizona voters finally approved Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday in November 1992. The following March, the NFL approved Tempe to host the Super Bowl in 1996.

So far, however, the NFL isn't coming out against SB 1062.

When asked for comment, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Huffington Post, "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."

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