Playing the game: basketball and politics

Town Council members caught some flack last year when we approved the 2016-17 meeting schedule and moved our first regular Monday night meeting in April to the first Wednesday. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Final would be held that Monday, and if UNC were to play in it, many of us would want to watch.

“You changed the schedule for a college basketball game?!” I heard from more than one constituent.

No, we freed up that Monday night so town leaders could be part of a community bonding experience. The NCAA Final is more than just a game.

Carolina men’s basketball fans compose the most nonpartisan, diverse crowd anywhere. Look at who’s cheering: the wealthy and the working class; Republicans and Democrats; the white-haired, the blue-haired and the no-haired; those who trace their heritage to Africa or Asia or Europe or Latin America. Everyone rooting for a UNC win.

In tournament play, the games are intense, and sometimes the wins are ugly. Not unlike the negotiating last week on replacing HB2 with HB142. If the sign of a good compromise is that no one is happy, this swap passed the test. I saw leaders I respect come down on opposite sides of the proposed bill, and I could understand the rationale of both camps.

Supporters of HB142 wanted to move forward, however imperfectly, on a couple of points they could live with. With HB142, a municipality now can require the consultants and subcontractors it hires to eschew discrimination of any group, something HB2 prevented us from doing. HB142 also leaves access to public bathrooms up to state lawmakers, as HB2 did. The agreement will last until 2020, or until the federal courts strike down any of the points.

Opponents of HB142 consider the issues brought to light in HB2 to be core values of our society and thus too important to water down with a compromise. Some view HB142 as little more than rebranding HB2.

The flurry of debate came because of the NCAA’s deadline for deciding the host cities for the next six years’ worth of tournament games in all college sports, and the NCAA would not consider any locales in North Carolina while HB2 was still on the books. With HB142 signed into law, our state is eligible to host NCAA events.

Politics has become increasingly polarized in recent years, and downright nasty in recent months. Elected officials find themselves in a situation familiar to the Tar Heel team: To reverse a downward spiral, we need a stop, then we need to score.

We need to stop vilifying one another when we disagree on policy. We need to resume talking with one another, building civil, functional relationships with those we disagree with. We need to remember that all of us want our community to thrive, even though we disagree on how to make that happen.

On Monday night, we will come together, full of hope, and root for the same team. We need to carry that spirit with us in the coming days and weeks as we make decisions about what’s best for Chapel Hill. Go Heels!
— Nancy Oates

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