Once again politics, law and sport have converged at the intersection of Public Policy Drive and Reality Boulevard. In mid-April the Georgia legislature passed House Bill 87, an immigration reform bill patterned after Arizona’s controversial law passed in 2010. The bill was finally signed into law on May 13 by Gov. Nathan Deal. It will take effect alter this year. The state of Utah adopted a similar bill earlier this year.
The bill would allow police to check the immigration status of anyone stopped for any reason and hold and ultimately deport anyone found to be in the country illegally. Proponents of the Georgia bill argue that, unlike in Arizona, police officers will not be able to simply randomly stop individuals and then check their immigration status. It should be noted, however, that the bill does not prohibit police from using routine license checkpoints as a means to stop and then to check on the status of persons in vehicles.
People make passionate arguments for and against this type of immigration reform. These bills are being proposed and passed because of concerns about illegal immigrants using public tax dollars in areas such as health care and because they are seen as taking jobs from legitimate citizens.
There are, however, unintended consequences to any public policy that is adopted.
In Arizona studies have been done that have concluded that between 30 and 40 meetings of business or professional groups scheduled to meet in the state have been canceled in the past year and that around $140 million in revenues for the state have been lost as a result.
In Georgia the city of Atlanta has hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics, an NCAA men’s Final Four, a Super Bowl and an NHL All-Star game. Business leaders are concerned that these types of events will not return because of the negative image in some circles a controversial public policy like this can create. Reports are already surfacing of a backlash against the law gaining momentum.
The Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau has issues a report concluding that tourism generates some $10 billion per year in revenues for the greater Atlanta area and is responsible for 223,000 jobs. The Bureau’s executive committee is concerned about possible loss of income and officially opposed the passage of HB 87. Civil Rights and immigrant advocacy groups have threatened protests if the bill does become law.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has adopted a policy of not hosting any championship events in the state of South Carolina because the Confederate battle flag continues to fly over the state capitol building. Many experts believe that anything that creates controversy and at least some negative publicity inevitably has economic costs.
Another recent example of this interplay between law and sport involves the University of North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux have been battling for the past few years to protect the use of their school nickname. The name has been controversial for a long time. The NCAA finally decided about five years ago that nickname was hostile and demeaning to Native Americans and threatened to not hold any championship events in the state unless the nickname was retired.
The University’s governing board decided to allow the nickname to remain in use if both of the two major Sioux tribes in the state voted to allow it. The Clear Lake Tribe voted to allow it; but the Standing Rock Tribe never voted. The governing board finally decided in August, 2010 to retire the nickname by phasing it out.
Ralph Englestad (now deceased) was the wealthy alumnus and sole donor for the school’s $104 million state-of-the-art arena that houses its nationally known hockey programs. Family members have stated that they may withdraw permission for the university to use the arena that is essentially leased to the university if the Fighting Sioux nickname is in fact retired.
These kinds of legal controversies inevitably have consequences for the sports world. Games are not played in a vacuum. Some 13,000 rabid hockey fans routinely pack the Englestad arena to watch the Fighting Sioux men’s hockey team play. What happens to the program if the University loses its right to use the arena? How much money does the University lose in licensing revenue if the nickname and logo can no longer be used?
In an era of shrinking government revenues how will the loss of tax revenues from lost meetings and conventions affect the state of Arizona? What happens to the image of the city of Atlanta if TV viewers see images of masses of people picketing outside of Phillips Arena or the Georgia Dome to protest the new immigration law?
All of this highlights this reality. A law may be legally sound and politically correct but at the same time may not be good economic policy. Should economic considerations even matter in these types of debates?
Greg Tyler, MPA, JD, MLIS
Mr. Tyler is the Director of the Library/Archivist at the United States Sports Academy. He is also a former practicing attorney. In his role as editor of the Digest he frequently puts together short pieces introducing an idea and providing links to more in depth articles. From time to time he writes a piece for the Digest on Law and Sport.