California Law Banning State Travel Sets Dangerous Sports Precedent


The state of California recently banned travel using taxpayer money to eight states — Alabama, Texas, South Dakota, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi and Kansas — because the state of California believes each state has passed laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people.

“Our country has made great strides in dismantling prejudicial laws that have deprived too many of our fellow Americans of their precious rights,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement released by the California Department of Justice. “Sadly, that is not the case in all parts of our nation, even in the 21st century. I am announcing today that I am adding four states to the list of states where California-funded or sponsored travel will be restricted on account of the discriminatory nature of laws enacted by those states.”

The Attorney General of California has the power to make these decisions based upon a recent law which went into effect in January of this year. The law, according to the California Department of Justice “prohibits state-funded and state-sponsored travel to states with laws that authorize or require discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or against same-sex couples or their families…This restriction applies to state agencies, departments, boards, authorities, and commissions, including an agency, department, board, authority, or commission of the University of California, the Board of Regents of the University of California, and the California State University.”

I first became aware of this new law because of its impact on college sports. This year in college football UCLA plays at Memphis, California plays at UNC, and Fresno State plays at Alabama. If all three of these contracts hadn’t been signed before this bill went into effect in 2017, these games wouldn’t be allowed to take place under state law. (And it’s not just football. This would apply for all sports contests between state of California teams that take place in these eight banned states.)

Under this law UCLA would not be able to travel to Texas A&M to play a football game and UCLA wouldn’t be able to travel to Kentucky for a basketball game. Even crazier, UCLA and Cal would not be able to play in the national title semifinal for football in Texas in 2018 or many of the NCAA tourney locations. In fact, neither UCLA, Cal nor any other state of California team would be able to play in the first or second round of the NCAA tournament if seeded for games in Nashville, TN, Wichita, KS, Dallas, TX, or Charlotte, NC. That’s half of the NCAA tournament sites in 2018.

What’s more, the Final Four is in San Antonio, Texas in 2018 so if any California school advanced to the Final Four they would technically be unable to play there based upon this state travel ban.

I’m just focusing on football and basketball here, but every other sport would be equally impacted, potentially much more so since the smaller the school the more state funding supports their travel costs.

Put plainly, this is insanity.

And here’s a fascinating question for you — can state of California schools recruit athletes in these eight states right now? It sounds like that’s unallowed under state law. So good luck to UCLA, Cal and any other state of California school when it comes to recruiting athletes in Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi, Kansas or South Dakota.

At least the state of Tennessee’s legislature has responded in a humorous fashion to the California ban.

Notwithstanding the state of Tennessee’s response the problem here is larger than sports and impacts our own history as a federalist nation. Put simply, each state is given the right to make its own laws within its own borders. So long as those laws don’t infringe upon federal protections, each state is free to act as a laboratory, testing out laws and regulations to see whether they make sense, potentially, on a larger state or national level. This is the very essence of federalism, the idea that states retain the rights to govern their citizen as they see fit.

Our history of federalism means that every state must respect the laws of its fellow states. Think, for instance, of a criminal arrested in California for a crime committed in Tennessee. That criminal may not have violated the law in California so he is extradited to Tennessee to face punishment there. This happens all over the country, thousands of times a day, states work together to ensure that our country is safer.

This California law is antithetical to that cooperative spirit.

Moreover, the California law may not even be constitutional. The moment that a state hinders the free flow of interstate commerce based upon disagreement with another state’s laws then substantial constitutional issues arise. Leaving aside the stupidity of the legislation, does California even have the right to pass and implement this law?

After all, this could, in theory, lead to states waging political war against each other over disagreements with local legislation. It’s likely that at least some of these eight states on California’s travel ban will at some point pass their own laws disallowing state-funded travel to California and we will embark on another round of political upheaval, yet more divisive rhetoric, and to what end? So that people from different parts of the country have even less cross-pollination of ideas than exists now? So that blue state and red state politicians can take turns demogoging one another to score political points at the expense of our national character?

Where does this end — with states refusing to cooperate on prisoner arrest and release? With local products being refused entry to state borders without substantial interstate taxes being paid? With the cancellation of sporting events between teams in Texas and California? California’s law, regardless of your political persuasion, is a really bad idea that leads to outrageous results.

Especially because, in an amazing show of hypocrisy, California doesn’t restrict the expenditure of state dollars on international travel to countries with heinous records of human rights abuse. You want to travel on state tax dollars to China or Saudi Arabia or Nigeria, all three countries which restrict gay rights infinitely more than any state in our country, have at it, but don’t you dare travel to North Carolina or Texas.

This is a particularly galling move in the arena of sports because a football game may well have had more to do with integrating Southern sports than any bill or law ever passed by any state. You’ll recall that back in 1970 Alabama was still playing an all white football team under Bear Bryant. Then USC came to town with an all-black backfield, then a rarity, and Sam Cunningham ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-21 win in Birmingham. Shortly thereafter Alabama began to give scholarships to black football players.

A former Bear Bryant assistant later said, “Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King did in 20 years.”

The quote speaks to a larger truth — the best way to change opinions is not by restricting travel and limiting interaction, it’s the exact opposite. Show the rest of the country — or the world — that you are right and the others are wrong. The nation is a competitive marketplace, if your state thrives and other states crumble then eventually they will adopt your methods of governance. The best way to make that happen? Interact in the market of ideas.

One of the biggest problems with politics today is the tendency of political leaders to make rash decisions to appeal to a left or right wing base at the expense of national unity. Those actions, which may make the politician’s base happy, then provoke an equally rash response on the other end of the political spectrum and before all is said and done we end up in a needless political debate that spills over into sports. Such was the case with the dispute over the use of public bathrooms in North Carolina.

If you’re not familiar with how the transgender bathroom bill began, the entire fracas started when liberal politicians in the city of Charlotte decided to protect the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. This was despite the fact that no one was keeping transgender people from using the bathroom anywhere in North Carolina throughout the 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s, 2000’s, and thus far well into the 2010’s. That is, no one was standing outside bathrooms conducting Crocodile Dundee tests to see which genitalia bathroom users actually had. This rule wasn’t about helping or protecting anyone’s rights, it was about scoring political points for left wing politicians.

Well, when right wing state representatives in North Carolina saw this regulation was passed in Charlotte, they decided they needed to pass a law to prevent this from happening, and so we ended up in a massive national debate about transgender bathroom laws. Everything was totally fine in North Carolina and then politicians appealing to their left and right wing bases created a massive conflict out of nothing, which ended up impacting sports too.

The ultimate irony here was that the city of Charlotte, which had tried to be super inclusive even when it didn’t need to be, ended up losing the ACC title game and the NBA all star game even though the people who lived in that city had been as inclusive as possible. Charlotte lost out to left wing politicians because it had been too left wing.

The same thing is happening in California now, politicians are creating needless conflict.

Gays and lesbians have a national right to marry. If gays and lesbians have issues with state laws in the eight states at issue here, guess what, they can challenge those state laws and have them overturned if they violate the Constitution. They don’t need California’s help. If anything all California’s actions do is make state legislatures, governors and citizens in these eight states less likely to change their minds. Who wants to be told what to do in your state by people who don’t even live within your state’s borders? The truth is this — California’s law isn’t about changing anything, it’s about politicians scoring political points even if those points may be scored at the expense of their stated goals.

This new California law may well be unconstitutional when the courts actually examine it, but we don’t have to wait for a court ruling to know this — it’s indisputably dumb. Regardless of your political persuasion, California’s best collegiate athletes should be competing with the nation’s best athletes.

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