The NAACP called on professional athletes on Thursday to avoid signing contracts with franchises located in Texas to protest new laws targeting voting rights and abortion access.
The spate of laws approved by the state’s Republican legislature this year amount to “an incomprehensible assault on basic human rights,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson and NAACP Texas President Gary Bledsoe wrote in a letter addressed to athletes in the NBA, NFL, WNBA, NHL and MLB. ABC News first reported the letter.
The letter asked athletes to help raise awareness about the laws and avoid signing with teams that play in a state that the civil rights organization says cannot protect their most fundamental rights.
“Texas lawmakers have destroyed the state’s moral compass by passing these laws. In return, we are asking that you seek employment with sports teams located in states that will protect, honor and serve your families with integrity,” Johnson and Bledsoe wrote. “We are now pleading with you ― if you are a free agent and are considering employment in Texas, look elsewhere.”
“The Texas government will not protect your family,” they continued. “Demand that Texas owners invest in your rights and protect your investments. Texas is not safe for you, your spouse, or your children. Until the legislation is overturned, Texas isn’t safe for anyone.”
Texas’ GOP legislature has enacted some of the country’s most radical pieces of legislation this year. In May, Republicans approved a law that effectively bans abortion in the state. In August, they passed a package of new voting rights restrictions that will disproportionately target Black and Latino Texans and make it even harder to vote in what is already one of the most restrictive states in the nation.
The two-page letter also cites Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s opposition to mask mandates and other policies meant to limit the spread of COVID-19, which has caused more than 71,000 deaths in Texas.
Although the NAACP letter doesn’t directly mention it, Texas Republicans this month used a special legislative session to pass legislation that prohibits transgender Texans from participating in scholastic sports that best match their gender identity, a blatantly discriminatory act that LGBTQ rights advocates say has already put lives at risk across the state. The Texas legislature also approved a bill in June that places drastic limits on teachers’ ability to discuss racism in the context of U.S. history or potentially contentious current events in the classroom.
“Over the past few months, legislators in Texas have passed archaic policies, disguised as laws, that directly violate privacy rights and a woman’s freedom to choose, restrict access to free and fair elections for Black and Brown voters, and increase the risk of contracting coronavirus,” Johnson and Bledsoe wrote. “If you are a woman, avoid Texas. If you are Black, avoid Texas. If you want to lower your chances of dying from coronavirus, avoid Texas.”
Many Texas-based corporations lined up against the state’s voter suppression, anti-trans and anti-abortion laws amid pressure from activists. The WNBA, Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo and the National Women’s Soccer League’s Houston Dash all opposed the anti-trans sports law.
In Georgia, another state where Republicans have passed an aggressive law restricting voting rights, Major League Baseball pulled its annual All-Star Game from Atlanta.
Pro athletes have also been outspoken in recent years on racial justice issues and police killings of Black Americans, as well as abortion rights, LGBTQ rights and elections. In January, ahead of the runoffs for the U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, members of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream called on the league to oust the Republican incumbent, former Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), from her role as the Dream’s owner after she opposed the team’s efforts to support the Black Lives Matter movement before games.
Loeffler, who lost her run-off race to now-Sen. Raphael Warnock (D), sold the team in February.
The NAACP letter asked athletes to use their platforms to help advocates and activists on the ground in Texas “demand that our democracy is upheld.”
“When all else fails, we must look within and answer the call to protect the basic human rights and democratic values which are fundamental to this country,” Johnson said in a release that accompanied the letter. “Professional athletes serve as some of our country’s greatest role models and we need them to join us to fight for democracy.”