Sports: Abortion rights must be line in the sand for WNBA, NWSL when considering expansion | Opinion

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As American women seethe over the loss of their rights and full standing in society, the WNBA and the NWSL have an opportunity to make a strong statement on their behalf.

Both leagues plan to add two expansion teams over the next three years, and at least a dozen cities have expressed interest. The WNBA and NWSL must make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that bidders from states hostile to women are not welcome.

Given that about half the country now has laws restricting a woman’s bodily autonomy, this could mean the leagues will have to take a pass on the most lucrative bid. Or one from owners willing to build the Taj Mahal of stadiums and/or training facilities. Even one from majority-female ownership groups.

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So be it.

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If a state doesn’t trust women enough to decide what is best for themselves, if it doesn’t see them as having value for anything beyond breeding, then that state doesn’t deserve to reap the benefits that come from being associated with women athletes. These states don’t get to tell women that they don’t matter and then turn around and profit off their work through taxes and other revenue.

And while it would be nice if all companies took that stance and stood up for the women who are their employees and consumers, it must be non-negotiable for women’s sports leagues.

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NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman appears to understand that, saying last week that reproductive rights “would be part of the analysis” when considering expansion bids.

“I think we have to look at that not just from an expansion perspective, but really even our current landscape,” Berman said. “It’s one of the things that we’re actually currently analyzing, which is looking even at our current markets to see where we have some differentiation between our values and what we stand behind relative to where we have teams located currently, and what are the solutions we can put in place.”

Asked a similar question at the All-Star Game, and then a follow-up, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert responded with word salads. She spoke of the importance of civic engagement, and seemed to suggest that a state courting a WNBA team would be well-aware of the league’s history of diversity and social justice activism and so would of course be supportive of women’s rights.

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Except that the Dallas Wings moved to Texas in 2016, and that hasn’t stopped that state’s hateful treatment of women.

“It’s important now that women’s sports are really coming to the forefront and investment is coming in to really act like they’re an 'A' team. They’re varsity. They have the ability to affect change. Period. End of story,” said Marian Hanson, who in a blog post last week raised the idea that women’s sports could become as powerful a lobby as the NRA.

“2022 is the spotlight moment for women’s sports, and it happens to intersect with the most horrific ruling the Supreme Court has ever made. Take that opportunity, flex your muscles and let’s start organizing,” said Hanson, the co-founder and CEO of Bardolf, a marketing and business development company.

It’s worked before.

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North Carolina repealed its so-called “bathroom” bill targeting transgender people after the NBA and NCAA yanked events out of the state. The WNBA helped flip control of the Senate after it mobilized behind Raphael Warnock, who was running against Kelly Loeffler, the former Atlanta Dream owner who criticized her own players for their social justice efforts.

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And if a full-throated defense of reproductive rights and bodily autonomy alienates a sponsor? Then that company really isn’t invested in women, and the leagues shouldn’t be doing business with them, anyway.

“You’ve got to lead from a place of courage and a place of strength,” Hanson said. “Right now, women’s sports have a place of strength. The question is, do they have the courage?”

There is a war being waged against the women of this country, and anyone with any kind of leverage must use it. For the WNBA and NWSL, that means telling states that are targeting women that their interest, be it in expansion or tent-pole events like All-Star Games and the draft, is not welcome and will not be reciprocated.

By standing up to bigotry, they'll be standing up for women.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Abortion rights must be line in the sand for WNBA, NWSL when considering expansion | Opinion

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