You may have noticed that the NFL has taken over Houston. Over a hundred-million people are expected to watch Super Bowl 51 around the world today, either for the game, the high-dollar commercials, or just to see what madness Lady Gaga brings to the halftime show. Since the game is being played in our very own NRG stadium, the world will be watching Houston closely, too.
Over the course of this week celebrities from every platform have made their way here, from famous athletes like Dak Prescott, to pop stars such as Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars, and even celebrities such as, you guessed it, America’s least-relevant former sitcom star, David Schwimmer. If Ross from ‘Friends’ is being invoked in the name of publicity, surely everyone and anyone is welcome to join in the festivities, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. For those with longer memories than the average news cycle, you’ll remember that Houston and, by extension, the NFL, doesn’t care about the transgender community. In 2015, Houston voters elected (in overwhelmingly majority) to repeal a bill that guaranteed protections for individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender-identity. The law, called the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance or HERO (unofficially renamed “the bathroom bill” by the conservative think tanks who took it down), was wrongfully mischaracterized as allowing sexually deviant men into women’s bathrooms, thereby putting women at risk of being violated. It was a perfect piece of propaganda from republicans aimed at scaring their voter base into showing up at the polls and overturning it.
Since then, the fear-mongering playbook that worked so well in Houston has been picked up by conservative legislations around the country, in places like North Carolina for example. The only difference is that North Carolina actually passed a law saying that people HAVE to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender listed on their birth certificate. Instead of repealing a law that ensured civil rights like Houston did, they passed one ensuring that discrimination would take place.
This difference is also important because North Carolina’s birth certificate stipulation incurred massive backlash. Bruce Springsteen cancelled a concert there, the NCAA and ACC cancelled college basketball championships there, and, by many reports, the bill even cost North Carolina’s incumbent GOP governor his job. Celebrities up and down social media decided to use North Carolina as a post for some politically-charged target practice. The bill’s discriminatory denouncement of transsexuals in particular set in motion sweeping changes in the state and local governments. Something good came out of it.
So far, that is not the case here in Houston. After HERO failed to pass, new mayor Sylvester Turner vowed on the campaign trail to revisit the bill if he won the mayoral election. But so far, in his first full year in office, efforts to revisit HERO haven’t materialized. In fact momentum is swinging the other way, this time at the state level. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, ever the villain of minorities, has introduced his own “bathroom bill” that would seek to enforce many of the same rules seen in the North Carolina version (allowing business owners to enforce their own bathroom policies based on their political views). If it passes Texas would likely lose concerts, business investments, and tourist dollars. But, to those who fear and demonize everything LGBT, that’s a small price to pay for an ideological victory.
Lost in all this is the fact that the NFL doesn’t care about the transgender community. It faced very little criticism of its decision to keep the game in Houston, but said that it will “work closely with the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee to make sure all fans feel welcomed at our events.”
But this is the organization that denied and actively covered up evidence that football causes CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a degenerative disease found in the brains of those who sustain repetitive blows to the head. This is the organization that allegedly had video evidence of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s horrific knockout punch to his fiancé’s head and only suspended him 4 games before the tape went public and forced Commissioner Roger Goodell to up the punishment to a full season. And it’s the same organization that gives only $11.25 out of every $100 sold of their pink merchandise collection (raising awareness for breast cancer, a shameless attempt to court female fans) to the American Cancer Society.
That’s a lot of misinformation, and there’s no reason to believe the NFL’s shallow words about protecting the LGBTQ community either. While the NFL reportedly told Georgia that passing a similar bill would cost them consideration in future super bowls, keeping the super bowl in Houston (due to logistical and time restraints) remains a glaring example of how big, conglomerate organizations deem something like equal rights subpar to their bottom lines. The NFL doesn’t care about anything except making money for the (97% white male) billionaire team-owners that profit off our nation’s obsession with violence and machismo.
Pulling the event out of Houston would’ve sent a clear message to local and state governments that discriminatory practices like the political assassination of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance are bad for businesses and will not be tolerated by the silent majority who don’t favor radical religious and political fascism that targets civil rights. But the NFL remained silent and got away with it.
So what can you do? I don’t know. Boycotting the super bowl probably won’t have much of an impact. It’ll still get massive ratings no matter what the readers of this website do. Protests are planned downtown today in opposition to the Trump administration’s travel ban, and you can certainly go and make your voice heard, but the game will take place (reportedly with vice-president Mike Pence in attendance) and everything will generally go according to plan.
In fact, I’m sure I’ll end up watching the game, because I inherently like football. I’ll watch the game and, for a few hours, I won’t think about the bad stuff. But then it will end and I’ll remember. I’ll remember that the NFL’s ratings are down from last year, and I’ll think about how ratings for other sports like soccer are going up, and I’ll smile.
I’ll keep protesting, calling my representatives and senators at the state and city levels, stay involved in local politics, and keep fighting for an America that gives civil liberties to all, one that disavows discrimination, fear, and hate. I’ll make my voice heard where the NFL stayed silent, I’ll take a stand in the name of what’s right where Roger Goodell and the NFL shrunk meekly, and I’ll hold the NFL accountable for doing the right thing in the future. And I’ll never forget the transgender people who struggle (and have died from hate crimes) in this city and across the nation, and I’ll keep fighting for them. I’ll never forget that the rich white men who own professional football teams could’ve taken a stand for those victims and all the minorities of Houston, and I’ll never forget that they didn’t.