Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - About the only thing that can scare a corporate giant like the NFL these days is an intolerant vocal minority.
There is a great "Family Guy" gag in which a Federal Communications Commission executive talks about an incident which generated 20 different calls and "as everyone knows, one call equals one billion people, which means 20 billion people complained."
Despite its absurdity and obvious embellishment, the episode remains a cult classic because there is quite a bit of truth behind its message. The silent majority which rarely expresses its opinions publicly has been marginalized to a ridiculous degree in our country, virtually ignored in favor of a chosen few who take to the mountain top to scream about their particular issue of the day.
Call it what you want in the desert -- religious rights or anti-gay legislation -- but if Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signs a controversial bill, labeled by critics as a license to discriminate against gays in the name of religion, the NFL has at least subtlety threatened to pull Super Bowl XLIX out of the state.
"It's very controversial, so I've got to get my hands around it," Gov. Brewer, also a Republican, said last week.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, S.B. 1062 passed the Republican- controlled state legislature last week, putting Brewer in the middle of a contentious political fight which will likely ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.
Fearful of any bad publicity, however, the NFL decided to take a proactive approach because the big game is scheduled for Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium next year.
"Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other improper standard," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement released to the NFL Network. "We are following the issue in Arizona and will continue to do so should the bill be signed into law, but will decline further comment at this time."
Similarly the Arizona Super Bowl Host committee also chimed in saying it disagreed with the bill and its potential impact on the state's economy.
"On that matter we have heard loud and clear from our various stakeholders that adoption of this legislation would not only run contrary to that goal but deal a significant blow to the state's economic growth potential," a committee spokesperson said. "We do not support this legislation."
Taking sides in this fight was a mistake, though.
Supporters of the bill claim that no businesses will be able to refuse service to anyone they disagree with based on religious grounds but want it on the books that business people should not be "forced" to ignore their religious beliefs in limited circumstances.
The bill was written after the New Mexico Supreme Court did in fact rule that a Christian wedding photography studio had to take pictures of a gay wedding if asked, admittedly a bit of an activist approach by that court but certainly no clear indication of intolerance toward the Christian faith.
"We are trying to protect people's religious liberties," Arizona State Rep. Steve Montenegro, a Republican, told U.S. News & World Report. "We don't want the government coming in and forcing somebody to act against their religious sacred faith beliefs or having to sell out if you are a small-business owner."
A photographer whose religious views clash with gay marriage should not be "ordered" to work a gay wedding, but to assume two individuals -- who don't count themselves as political activists trying to make waves -- would want to celebrate one of the most important days of their lives by seeking out a businessman intolerant of their lifestyle and then turn to the government to make it happen is as specious as it gets.
Conversely, opponents of the bill contend that it will allow Arizona businesses to refuse service to homosexual customers. And that tortured thought process is just as erroneous.
Say that same photog buys a McDonald's restaurant. In the minds of lefties that bigot could then ban the same homosexual couple from his establishment as if businesses in Arizona hoping for nothing more than a profit have been waiting for the go ahead to discriminate, and the actual people of the state who frequent such establishments were dying to back up that discrimination with their patronage.
The truth is -- like most social legislation -- this is a politically fueled confrontation between the extremes of both political parties debating over the top scenarios designed to distract from more pressing issues like the state's illegal immigration issues, drug problems and economy woes.
And the NFL needs to stay out of it.