Marist: Playing Duke in b-ball doesn’t mean we hate LGBT community

Marist College is defending its decision to play Duke University in place of the University of Albany, which has refused to play Duke in protest against North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law.

In July, the State University of New York at Albany announced that it would not be participating in a scheduled basketball tournament game at Duke, citing the travel ban imposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) restricting non-essential state-sponsored travel to NC, which was put in place explicitly in reaction to the controversy over HB2.

[RELATED: NY colleges shun Duke over NC bathroom bill]

As a public institution, Albany is subject to the travel ban, but Marist is private and faces no such restriction, allowing its men’s basketball team to replace Albany on Duke’s schedule.

In a public statement released Wednesday, though, Marist insists that its willingness to play in North Carolina in no way constitutes an endorsement of HB2, reiterating several times that the institution strongly opposes the law requiring individuals to use public restroom facilities consistent with their legal gender at birth.

“The decision to play this basketball game does not diminish in any way our support for the LGBT community,” Greg Cannon, Marist’s chief of public affairs, told The Poughkeepsie Journal. “It also doesn’t equate to a show of support for this regressive law.”

Rather, he indicated “part of” the reason that Marist is interested in playing Duke primarily because of the exposure the game will provide, as Marist has a young and untested basketball team, whereas Duke is among the premier college basketball teams in the nation.

“We recognize and appreciate where people are coming from,” Cannon said. “We can't convince all of them that they should be on board with it, but we want to do our best to help them understand why we're doing this, and reassure them that this in no way will diminish the work we've done to support the LGBT community on campus.”

Marist has received significant backlash for its decision, which the statement attempts to counter by pointing out that “hundreds, if not thousands, of colleges still plan to send sports teams, musical groups, admissions recruiters, etc. to North Carolina,” and adding that while the National Basketball Association has moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, it has not cancelled the Charlotte Hornets’ season despite the team being located in the state.

The gambit failed to mollify alumnus Joseph Amodeo, however, who responded Thursday with an open letter to Marist president David Yellen published in the Huffington Post, in which he argues that “blatant disregard or ignorance of the discrimination taking place in North Carolina” is not justified by the advantages of playing a televised game against Duke.

“As a member of the LGBT community, Marist’s decision to demonstrate a complete disregard for the Governor’s order, Albany’s reasoning for withdrawing, and the well-being of Marist’s LGBTQ students, athletes, and alumni is deeply concerning,” Amondeo writes. “Further, the college’s participation in this match threatens to convey a message that Marist is willing to simply ‘accept’ North Carolina’s legalized discrimination solely for the purpose of playing a basketball game. This action stands in stark contrast to the College’s mission statement…”

Legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who recently led the U.S national basketball team at the Rio Olympics, has also been critical of HB2, calling it “an embarrassing bill” in an interview last month, but declining to elaborate further.

[RELATED: Coach K calls HB2 ‘embarrassing’ as LGBT students avoid NC]

Duke itself has been less circumspect in its opposition to the law, according to Inside Higher Ed, releasing a joint statement Monday from university President Richard Brodhead and Provost Sally Kornbluth calling for the law to be repealed.

“In spirit and in letter, this new law runs counter to the ideals of Duke University—and, we believe, to those of our great state,” the administrators contend, adding, “we urge a full repeal of HB2.”

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