NAACP CEO asks free agent athletes not sign with Texas teams

NAACP head Derrick Johnson and Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe release open letter asking athletes to avoid Texas due to unfavorable abortion, election and COVID-19 response policies

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson on Thursday published an open letter to professional athletes, urging them to steer clear of signing with franchises from Texas during free agency.

Johnson wrote the letter alongside NAACP Texas President Gary Bledsoe in response to the recent laws that Texas issued in regards to abortion regulations, election restrictions and removing COVID-19 mask mandates.

In March, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order to free the state’s businesses and residents of COVID-19 restrictions, including removal of the state’s mask mandate. In May, Abbott signed a bill that prohibits women from having abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, which the U.S. Supreme Court last month denied an emergency appeal from abortion providers and others that sought to block enforcement of the law. In September, Abbott signed an elections reform bill that put in place new restrictions on how and when voters can cast ballots and, including vote-by-mail access, according to the Texas Tribune.

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson speaks onstage during the 51st NAACP Image Awards, Presented by BET, at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 22, 2020 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images for BET)

Johnson and Bledsoe feel that the new laws have a disproportionate effect on the Black community and have advised that players from major sports leagues, including the NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL and NFL, avoid signing with teams based in the state for their own protection.

“As we watch an incomprehensible assault on basic human rights unfold in Texas, we are simultaneously witnessing a threat to constitutional guarantees for women, children and marginalized communities,” Johnson and Bledsoe wrote. “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. 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.”

Johnson feels that athletes have a big platform and influence on society, and if they take a stand, then others would follow suit.

“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. “Professional athletes serve as some of our country’s greatest role models and we need them to join us to fight for democracy.”

There are nine professional Texas teams between the five leagues: the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets of the NBA, the Dallas Wings of the WNBA, the Dallas Stars of the NHL, MLB’s Texas Rangers and Houston Astros, and the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans.

In addition, Johnson recently commented on the “tomahawk chop” gesture used by Atlanta Braves fans. The Braves are currently facing the Astros in the World Series.

Johnson told CNN that he feels that it’s racially insensitive for fans and players to partake in the gesture during games as many advocacy groups and members of the Native American community have called for it to stop.

“Words matter. Images are important. NAACP, we stand in solidarity with the Native American community,” Johnson said. “No one in this country should be offended because of stereotypical images, naming of teams, gestures. Words matter and we have to look for a future that’s inclusive and diverse and stop perpetuating stereotypes of the past.”

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