Port: I don't remember electing the NCAA to the Legislature

Are we really practicing self-governance when, in policy debates, we must cower in fear of retribution from corporate behemoths?

Scheels Arena is prepped Monday, March 20, 2017, for the NCAA West Regional hockey tournament featuring UND, Boston University, Ohio State and Minnesota-Duluth. David Samson / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — The threat of powerful corporations retaliating against controversial policy and provocative speech has become such a rote part of our political debates and the culture war that we almost don't even question it anymore.

Nobody has ever voted to elect the NCAA, about as venal and exploitive an entity as exists in America , to stand astride our legislative process, but in many ways, they do.

In Bismarck, the state Senate has voted to turn House Bill 1298 , addressing participation in state-sanctioned sports by transgender athletes, into a study of, among other things, "the economic ramifications for state and local tourism, the consequences for the state's relationship with regional and national athletic organizations," as Adam Willis reports .

The threat of retaliation has been bluntly stated. Charley Johnson , president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, made it the centerpiece of his opposition to the bill. “If the NCAA strikes states with these kinds of laws, that’s a huge negative for everybody,” he told Robin Huebner .

This situation is hardly unique to North Dakota. Major League Baseball is under pressure to move its All-Star Game from Georgia after that state passed election reforms that aren't to the liking of left-wing activists.


In South Dakota, Trump-loving Gov. Kristi Noem abused her "style and form" veto authority to re-write transgender athlete legislation (legislators write laws, not governors), something that has ultimately resulted in the bill's death. Part of her justification for the bizarre move was the threat of retaliation from the NCAA.

But, again, who elected the NCAA?

Or Major League Baseball?

Or the NBA, which delayed hosting its all-star game in North Carolina for years over a bathroom bill?

Photo: Janne Myrdal transgender athletes debate
Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, speaks in support of a bill that would prohibit transgender girls from participating in K-12 girls' athletic competitions on Monday, March 29, 2021. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

Our transgender friends and neighbors want to feel respected and included in our communities. Other community members, who have lived their lives in a world where things like bathrooms and sports have long been segregated by gender, are uncomfortable with change, often in perfectly reasonable ways.

That debate, as fraught as it is, isn't the problem.


It's how comfortable many of us have become calling in powerful corporate entities to act as de facto enforcers of a certain point of view.

We often hear criticism of the influence of corporations and "big money" in politics, often from the same people who have no problem with the NCAA bullying state legislatures into compliance with progressive orthodoxies.

It's bigger than sports leagues and transgender issues, too.

Amazon is banning books . Facebook, Twitter, and Google are the speech police for the digital "town squares" where much of America's modern political debates occur.

And we're just OK with ceding that much power to corporations?

It's an issue separate from how you might feel about transgender athletes or other controversial public policy questions.

Are we really practicing self-governance when we must cower in fear of retribution from corporate behemoths?

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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