-- In Greenwood, Mississippi, Byron De La Beckwith Jr. was well known as a devout segregationist who hated Jews, Catholics and blacks.
One June morning in 1963, Beckwith drove his hatred 99 miles south to Jackson. There he waited under the cover of some honeysuckle vines near the home of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. And when Evers came home, Beckwith shot him in the back, killing him.
The state tried Beckwith twice for murder in 1964. Each time, the trial ended with a hung jury. Among his supporters was Gov. Ross Barnett, who made it a point to shake Beckwith's hand in front of the jury. That would be the same Gov. Barnett who defied a federal court order and futilely tried to stop the first black student -- James Meredith -- from enrolling at the University of Mississippi.
This was the backdrop against which the all-white men's basketball players and coaches at Mississippi State University took it upon themselves to do something no team in the state had done before. To do something their brazenly racist governor specifically forbade them to do -- play against an integrated team. These men risked their college educations, their careers, perhaps even their lives, to sneak out of the state, fly to East Lansing, Michigan, and play Loyola (Ill.) in the Mideast Regional of the NCAA tournament.
It was a contest now known as the "Game of Change."
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between giving a statement and making one.
Since Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the highly controversial "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" -- a law he all but acknowledged on ABC's "This Week" makes discrimination against LGBT people legal -- the sports world has provided a lot of strong statements.
In response to the law, the NBA and WNBA released a statement in support of inclusion. NCAA President Mark Emmert said that the Indianapolis-based organization is "deeply concerned" and that "moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce." Indiana Pacers great Reggie Miller said he is "very disappointed," and Charles Barkley said "discrimination in any form is unacceptable to me."
A lot of great talk.
Not a whole lot of action.
That's not to say the voices originate from a disingenuous place. Barkley has long been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage and openly gay athletes; the NCAA has been working with various LGBT rights organizations for years to make college sports more inclusive; and the NBA embraced Jason Collins with open arms.
But here's the rub: None of that called for much of a sacrifice. This ain't the 1990s. Today, more than 70 percent of Americans live in states where same-sex marriage is legal.
Sure, the NBA fined Kobe Bryant $100,000 for being caught on camera uttering a gay slur, but what exactly did that cost the NBA? How is having Michael Sam drafted, paraded and then cut a sign that the NFL is serious about LGBT equality in the workplace? And no, I'm not suggesting Sam should be on a team to fulfill some sort of imaginary quota. I'm saying its biggest employee recruiting conference -- the combine -- is held in a state where it's legal to not hire someone solely for being gay. To continue to hold the combine in Indiana is mixed-messaging at best, lazy and condescending at worst.
Especially when you consider that the NFL's agreement with Visit Indy -- which negotiates the use of the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium -- is year-to-year. Of all the immediate actions the league could take, walking away from Indiana's negotiating table seems like a no-brainer -- if it's willing to make the nominal sacrifice that's required. And by sacrifice, I mean finding another city that would be willing to take on the estimated $8 million in revenue Indianapolis recently enjoyed for hosting the weeklong talent showcase. The fact the league didn't have such a move already planned tells us that it was hoping the new law would not get as much bad press as it has. Hard to imagine the NFL was blindsided by the signing of a bill that has been in the news for a few months now. No, it was just waiting to see what the public's reaction would be.
Same goes for the NCAA, which has a host of championships scheduled to be played in Indianapolis, including this year's men's Final Four and the 2016 Women's Final Four. The Big Ten football championship game also is scheduled to be played there in December.
What we're seeing now are strongly worded statements in response to the public outcry and not the law itself because, quite frankly, they all knew it was coming down the pipeline. If Indiana's sanctioned discrimination was such an affront to the values of the NBA, NFL and NCAA, why is it that Angie's List is the first with any real skin in the game? The Indianapolis-based company canceled a $40 million headquarters expansion. This came on the heels of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff's tweeting, "Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination."
That is the difference between making a statement and giving one. Muhammad Ali's sacrificing nearly four years of his career as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War made a statement. Pat Tillman's leaving an NFL career to join the army after Sept. 11 made a statement. Serena Williams' boycotting the Indian Wells tennis tournament for 14 years because of racist hostility her family endured in 2001 made a statement. Just as her return this year, in the name of racial reconciliation, made another. Strong words might catch our attention, but to quote former Michigan Sen. Lewis Cass: "People may doubt what you say but will believe what you do."
Now, in all fairness to Emmert and the gang, even Gov. Pence seems a bit shaken by the events over the past couple of days. Not by the objections to the law, mind you. He was well aware LGBT rights organizations had forcefully warned that the law would sanction discrimination. And he was supported by well-known anti-gay activists when he signed the measure. No, the shock came when so many people and organizations outside of those groups gave a damn.
At least for now.
The first rule of managing a scandal is to ignore it. The second is to make a statement and hope something else catches the media's eye. On ABC, Gov. Pence said he would push to "clarify" the law, which is PR talk for "biding time." The hope, no doubt, is that the public will forget it is mad at Indiana and move on to something else ... perhaps more nude photos of Kim Kardashian. It's not a bad strategy. Last fall, we were all going to die of Ebola, remember? The question is: When we do all move on, will the NFL, NCAA et al. actually follow through and make sacrifices in defense of the values they proclaim to have, or will it be business as usual? As we were all painfully reminded by West Virginia freshman Daxter Miles Jr., giving a statement is a helluva lot easier than making one.
Speaking of sacrifices, much of the incredible "Game of Change" story can be found displayed proudly on the NCAA website. And as life would have it, one of the teams in this year's Final Four -- the Michigan State Spartans -- is from East Lansing, Michigan, where that historical game was played. You might not know this, but Michigan is another state with a similar anti-LGBT bill heading down the pipeline. In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union found that 24 anti-LGBT bills have been considered in 15 states this year alone. So while the sports world missed an opportunity to make a statement in Indiana, it seems Emmert, Roger Goodell, Adam Silver and others will get plenty of other chances to back up their words with actions, for a change.