ATLANTA (WXIA) -- Georgia's 'Religious Freedom' Bill could put the state's future hosting the Super Bowl in jeopardy following a statement from the NFL.
The bill has been passed by the state's general assembly and awaits Governor Nathan Deal's signature. But Deal's decision could come at a significant cost to the state's football future.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, now under construction in downtown Atlanta, is one of several stadiums under consideration for Super Bowl LIV, which would be played at the end of the NFL's centennial 2019 season in February 2020. A statement from NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy Friday afternoon said, "NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites."
The Atlanta Falcons' owner was quick to respond with the following statement:
"One of my bedrock values is ‘Include Everyone' and it's a principle we embrace and strive to live each and every day with my family and our associates, a vast majority of which live and work in Georgia. I strongly believe a diverse, inclusive and welcoming Georgia is critical to our citizens and the millions of visitors coming to enjoy all that our great state has to offer. House Bill 757 undermines these principles and would have long-lasting negative impact on our state and the people of Georgia."
The Metro Atlanta Chamber has also released the following response:
"We recognize this is a very challenging issue and that there was meaningful effort to address the balance between deeply held views and the interests and rights of others. We appreciate the efforts made to find common ground by the House and Senate. However, we are opposed to HB 757. This legislation is in conflict with the values of diversity and inclusion that Georgians hold dear and could erode Georgia's hard-earned status as the No. 1 state for business -- and would harm our ability to create and keep jobs that Georgia families depend upon. The bill does not protect local non-discrimination ordinances, which could impact the state's ability to recruit major revenue-driving sporting events like the Super Bowl, the Final Four and the College Football Championship; it also jeopardizes our convention and tourism businesses. We agree with Governor Deal that allowing discrimination isn't a proper reflection of who we are and echo his call for unity and inclusion. We deeply appreciate the Governor's deliberation on this very important issue, and respectfully ask him to maintain this view while considering this legislation."
Late Friday afternoon, the Atlanta Braves also voiced their opposition to HB 757:
The Atlanta Braves organization believes that House Bill 757 is detrimental to our community and bad for Georgia. Our organization believes in an environment that is inclusive of all people. In addition to allowing discrimination against citizens of this state, the bill will have a profoundly negative impact on our organization. As a Georgia business and employer, we proudly support Georgia Prospers in its goal to ensure that the state's workplaces and communities are diverse and welcoming for all people, no matter one's race, sex, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. We are proud to represent Georgia and are opposed to any law that endorses discrimination against anyone.
In addition, the Atlanta Hawks released a statement Friday afternoon:
"For generations, Atlanta has stood at the forefront of civil rights and its diversity is what has made this city a cultural leader in the Southeast. The Hawks strongly believe in the values of inclusion, diversity and equal rights, core principles by which we operate our business and are essential elements in making Atlanta a leading global city."
Other stadiums under consideration for hosting Super Bowl LIV include Sun Life Stadium in Miami, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The new Los Angeles Rams stadium in Inglewood, California will be open in time for the game, but under current NFL policy would not be eligible to host the game, as stadiums in their first year of existence are not allowed to host Super Bowls, to prevent potential construction delays from jeopardizing the game.
Prior to this point, many sports analysts considered Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium to have the inside track for Super Bowl LIV. The new stadium will open in time for the 2017 NFL season.