Arizona Anti-Gay Bill Vetoed After NFL, MLB, And NBA Put Pressure On State

National Football League officials are carefully watching the fate of controversial anti-gay legislation in Arizona as the US state prepares to host Super Bowl 49 next February. Ronald Martinez/Getty/AFP/File

A controversial anti-gay bill was vetoed by Arizona governor Jan Brewer only hours after pressure from American sports leagues that pump millions of dollars into the US state’s economy.

The National Football League, which will stage Super Bowl 49 next February in Arizona, as well as Major League Baseball and Arizona’s NBA and Women’s NBA teams made it clear they did not want to see Senate Bill 1062 become law.

The bill would have let businesses refuse to serve gays and lesbians for religious reasons, drawing protest marches at the state capitol and raising fears from Arizona businesses about possible lost tourism and convention income.

The NFL championship spectacle, which organisers estimated produced $US550 to $US600 million in economic impact for the New York region earlier this month, could potentially have been moved from Arizona for the second time.

While no overt threat was made to yank the Super Bowl, it was clear the NFL was watching Brewer.

“Our policies emphasise tolerance and inclusiveness and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other improper standard,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement before the decision.

“We are following the issue in Arizona and will continue to do so.”

The Phoenix area already has the stigma of being the only host in Super Bowl history to ever have the big game stripped away.

The NFL moved the 1993 Super Bowl from Arizona to Pasadena, California, after Arizona voters in 1990 failed to approve a paid state holiday in tribute to the slain African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

After a 1992 Arizona vote creating a paid state holiday to honour King, the NFL staged the 1996 Super Bowl at Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe.

– Baseball, basketball object too –

Major League Baseball, which has half of its 30 clubs staging hundreds of pre-season exhibition games in the Phoenix area over the next month, came out against the bill Wednesday, invoking the name of the first African-American player in the sport in doing so.

“As the sport of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball and its 30 clubs stand united behind the principles of respect, inclusion and acceptance,” it said in a statement.

“Those values are fundamental to our game’s diverse players, employees and fans. We welcome individuals of different sexual orientations, races, religions, genders and national origins.”

It added: “MLB has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation… Accordingly, MLB will neither support nor tolerate any words, attitudes or actions that imperil the inclusive communities that we have strived to foster within our game.”

The NBA Phoenix Suns, who play 41 home games in Arizona, and the Women’s NBA Arizona Mercury, who boast openly gay star Brittney Griner, also came out solidly against the measure.

“Sports has the unique power to unite, to bring together a community without regard to individual differences,” they said in a statement.

“The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury are proud members of this community and we embrace fans, families and businesses of every stripe.”

“We are steadfastly committed to the principles of inclusivity and acceptance and cannot support anything that is not in line with that philosophy,” they added.

The 2014 WNBA All-Star Game is set to be played at Phoenix on July 19.

– ‘Significant blow’ economically –

Also among those against the measure was the host committee of Super Bowl 49, set for the domed home stadium of the Arizona Cardinals in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale.

“We do not support this legislation,” it said in a statement.

Area business leaders had made their feelings clear to the Super Bowl group.

“A key part of the mission for the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee is to promote the economic vitality of Arizona,” the committee said.

“On that matter we have heard loud and clear from our various stakeholders that adoption of this legislation would not only run contrary to that goal but deal a significant blow to the state’s economic growth potential.”

The controversy came as the NFL prepares to welcome Michael Sam, a college standout who is openly gay and expected to be selected in May’s NFL Draft and become the league’s first openly homosexual player.

Last Sunday, Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in an NBA game.

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