Arizona’s new anti-gay segregation bill, which currently awaits Gov. Jan Brewer’s signature, is a sadistic piece of legislation designed by bigoted extremists to degrade and humiliate gay people and their families. Like most bigoted extremists, the Arizona politicians who supported the bill don’t care about empathy or equality. What they do care about is money and football. And if Brewer signs the bill into law, a boycott of Arizona can effectively deprive these execrable zealots of both.
Most state boycotts function primarily on a symbolic level, directing the country’s attention to revolting injustices without seriously denting the state’s revenues. But an Arizona boycott stands to do real damage to the state’s bottom line in addition to its image. That’s because pro football has handed the gay community a significant bargaining chip: Super Bowl XLIX, currently scheduled to be played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 1, 2015. If Brewer signs the anti-gay bill, myriad businesses are certain to boycott the game—and if the outrage reaches a sustained pitch, the NFL might follow suit and switch venues, depriving the state of a massive influx of money and further tarnishing its international image.
Arizona has good reason to fear a Super Bowl boycott; after all, it’s suffered one before. In 1990, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue threatened to move the 1993 Super Bowl out of Arizona if the state refused to create a holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Arizona voted down the holiday, and Tagliabue kept his word, relocating the game to Pasadena, Calif., and bringing the region a financial boom. The move was a financial and PR disaster for Arizona, which finally voted to recognize MLK Day in 1992.
After a catastrophe of that scale, you might think Arizona would have learned that bigotry isn’t the most lucrative of state pastimes. Yet during Brewer’s tenure, the state has re-emerged as the vanguard of prejudiced zealotry, first by legalizing racial profiling and now by promoting widespread anti-gay discrimination. A boycott that imperils America’s most watched TV program is surely the only redress serious enough to catch the attention of Arizona’s rampaging legislators. In fact, even if the boycott failed to draw the NFL into the fold, its impact could still be devastating: Celebrities would refuse to perform or even attend; businesses and sponsors would pull their commercials; and the entire game could be eclipsed by the shadow of the state’s homophobic law.
There are even more immediately practical reasons to boycott Arizona, as well. Should the anti-gay bill become law, any stadium employee—from a parking lot attendant to a hot dog vendor—could demand to know a spectator’s orientation and deny him service if he’s gay. A ticket-taker could screen all fans at the gate and refuse the gay ones entry. And due to the breathtaking breadth of the law, the NFL could do absolutely nothing to stop it. Every employee would have a right to turn away gay people, and no employer would be legally permitted to demand equal treatment of all customers.
And what if the openly gay Michael Sam finds himself in Glendale following a charmed debut season? Every single person he encounters would be permitted to discriminate against him with no legal repercussions: Any business could eject him from its premises; any company could deny him service. And at the game itself, every employee, from a locker room attendant to a referee, could legally refuse to interact with Sam.
The NFL does not want to see its most prized event devolve into a dehumanizing display of antediluvian bigotry. But, assuming Brewer affixes her signature to the bill, that’s what a 2015 Super Bowl in Arizona could look like. At this stage, only the NFL can make Brewer and her Republican colleagues understand that anti-gay discrimination isn’t just bad for gay people: It’s bad for business, Brewer’s self-proclaimed area of expertise. The moment the bill becomes law, then, let the Arizona boycott begin. The world—and the NFL—will be listening.