By Frank Pingue and Jon Herskovitz
(Reuters) – Texas lawmakers could hurt the football-loving state’s chances to attract a future Super Bowl if they adopt a measure that restricts access to bathrooms for transgender people, a National Football League spokesman said on Friday.
The comments, which come after Houston hosted Super Bowl LI on Sunday, appear to be the most critical by the league yet of legislation that has become a focal point in U.S. culture wars.
“If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law there, that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said when asked for the league’s stance on the Texas bill.
McCarthy added: “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.”
The proposed measure in Texas is similar to one enacted last year in North Carolina, prompting the National Basketball Association to pull its showcase 2017 All Star game from Charlotte.
The NCAA also relocated collegiate championship games from the state after it barred transgender people from using government-run restrooms that match their gender identity.
Lawmakers in Texas and 13 other states now have introduced so-called “bathroom bills,” which supporters say help protect privacy and safety but opponents argue target an already marginalized group in U.S. society.
A prominent business group said if the Texas bill becomes law, it could cost the state billions of dollars.
Texas has several upcoming marquee sporting events that could be at risk, including the NCAA men’s Final Four basketball championship in San Antonio next year.
The NFL has awarded hosting rights to the Super Bowl, the biggest annual event on the U.S. sporting calendar, through 2021. The next two hosts will be decided in 2018.
This month’s Super Bowl was expected to bring the Houston area a net economic benefit of around $350 million, according to the Host Committee. The Dallas-area city of Arlington hosted the 2011 Super Bowl in the stadium where the Cowboys play.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican who is the main backer of the Texas bathroom bill, has downplayed talk that the state’s economy would suffer if the measure became law. He was not immediately available on Friday to comment on the NFL statement.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas and Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio)