Before the NFL released a tame, relatively cookie-cutter statement about Texas's bathroom bill one week ago, Governor Greg Abbott had been conspicuously silent on the controversial legislation. Publicly blasting any and all critics of the bill had been Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick's job. Only Patrick had made the bill one of his priorities.
But the NFL's statement apparently has struck a chord in Abbott, sending him into rambling, acidic tirades on national television and radio shows. For a state that's supposed to love football in all its brutal glory, it's a little confusing to hear its highest politician hating on the league as though it just smashed into the bumper of his brand new convertible.
Let's start with the NFL's statement, from spokesman Brian McCarthy. Or, as the governor prefers to call him: "some low-level NFL adviser."
"The NFL embraces inclusiveness," McCarthy began. "We want all fans to feel welcomed at our events and NFL policies prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law [in Texas], that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events."
Enter: the wrath of Greg Abbott.
First, on Tuesday, he appeared on conservative radio host Glenn Beck's program, saying the NFL was walking on "thin ice" for making such a comment about Texas's bill — apparently construing the NFL's commitment to follow its own non-discrimination policy to mean Texas may be passed over for another Super Bowl.
"For some low-level NFL adviser to come out and say that they are going to micromanage and try to dictate to the state of Texas what types of policies we're going to pass in our state, that's unacceptable," Abbott said. "We don't care what the NFL thinks and certainly what their political policies are because they are not a political arm of the state of Texas or the United States of America. They need to learn their place in the United States, which is to govern football, not politics."
He was just getting warmed up. Yesterday, he went on Fox News Insider and sounded like a teapot about to boil over as he managed to grow madder and yell louder about the NFL's week-old statement. This time, he created a strange moral equivalency and threw the NFL's statement back in its face with examples of things NFL players have done.
"The NFL has its own share of problems," he said. "The NFL coddled its players who refused to stand for the National Anthem. The NFL has its own problem with regard to people, such as violence against women. ... Imagine this: If the NFL tries to come down on the state of Texas, I might just pass a bill here in the state of Texas mandating that all NFL players have to stand and put the hand on the heart when the National Anthem is played."
Let's pause here. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement last season in which some NFL football players knelt or sat during the National Anthem as a political statement about how black Americans have persistently been mistreated by this county throughout history. The Niners did not discipline Kaepernick, saying in a statement: In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem."
Apparently, not in Abbott's version of America. Continuing:
"If the NFL really wants to solve this problem about bathrooms for people who are transgenders [sic], the NFL should impose on all of its teams to put their own bathrooms into their stadiums to accommodate those with transgenders [sic] as opposed to trying to dictate to states what laws they must comply with."
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Abbott, Patrick, and a slew of GOP politicians have promoted and spun this bill as one to "protect the safety and privacy of women," the same justification North Carolina used to pass its own bathroom bill, leading the NCAA to pull seven championships out of the state. Texas's bill does include a statute that allows stadiums and convention centers to make their own bathroom policies. But critics told the Texas Tribune yesterday that it didn't matter:
“We have discussed that with our meeting planners and sports organizers — they don’t care about the nuances,” Visit Dallas CEO Phillip Jones told the Tribune. “Perception is reality, and if there's a perception that there's a discrimination taking place in Texas that's sanctioned by the state as a result of this bill, they will bypass Texas.”
Since the bill would require people to use bathrooms in schools and government buildings corresponding with their sex at birth, it would force transgender people to use bathrooms where may visibly do not belong and, ironically, may be vulnerable to the type of assault and harassment the bill proclaims to prevent.
If Abbott wants the NFL to get started on "solving this problem," then the league might as well start with releasing a lukewarm statement subtly, politely threatening to take away all the fun.