In a statement released on Friday, the Portland Trail Blazers as an organization waded into mostly uncharted territory for a major sports team by declaring support for the Freedom to Marry and Religious Protection ballot initiative in Oregon. The initiative, which will require 116,284 signatures to make it on the ballot in November 2014, would amend the state constitution to allow same-sex couples to marry while also protecting the right of clergy and religious institutions to refuse to perform marriages that conflict with their views.
“We know that we have a really unique position to shine a bright light on an issue like this that is probably not completely traditional in professional sports today,” said Trail Blazers Vice President of Community Relations Traci Rose.
Oregon’s constitution, by way of a ballot initiative passed in 2004, currently defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
The Trail Blazers joined the Timbers and Thorns, along with many other Portland businesses, in throwing their support behind the initiative. It is believed the Trail Blazers are the first team of the four major leagues in the United States to take an explicit stance on same-sex marriage.
“We knew it might not be everyone’s opinion but we knew, from a business standpoint, that it was the right thing to do,” said Rose. “It was really cool to have it be able to come all together at the same time the Timbers and Thorns were getting behind it. There was no concerted effort for us to do it hand-in-hand but shoot, it sure made an impact. Obviously Oregon United For Marriage was thrilled to have both sports take a position and then to end up hearing that Oregon was the first state to have professional sports team get behind an issue like this was great.”
The team knew the endorsement of the ballot initiative might be controversial, as there are few issues more hot-button in the United States, but in the end, Rose said the decision was a rather easy one.
“We have such a tremendous privilege and responsibility for who we are,” said Rose. “I said it this weekend, the Timbers and the Trail Blazers bring national attention to things easily because of who we are and what we do. And even though we’re not doing it politically, it’s not like we haven’t stopped for a second and thought about who are our customers and who are our fans. At the end of the day, in this particular case, it doesn’t matter. What we’re saying is we get behind equality, period. And why wouldn’t we? It shouldn’t be over-thought, it’s just about human compassion for one another.”
According to Rose, endorsing the ballot initiative was a logical extension of the team’s “Respect, Pass It On.” campaign, which focused on putting an end to bullying by raising awareness.
“We’ve been working with Basic Rights Oregon for years,” said Rose. “They’re actually one of the first groups that came to us and helped inspire us to head into the “Respect” campaign. They came and talked to us about the issues that LGBTQ students were facing in school, so when we were building the “Respect” campaign they were really one of the first groups that inspired us to try and figure out how we can be the conversation-starter for people to start talking about the affects of bullying and individual choices and just respecting individuals for who they are.”
Vulcan Inc., the company that oversees all of Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen’s business and charitable endeavors, was one of the most prominent organizations to support Washington state’s same-sex marriage law approved by voters in 2012. Rose said knowing that same-sex equality was something that was already supported by “our owner on down” so the Trail Blazers’ involvement with Oregon’s ballot initiative brings the team in line with other Vulcan companies. Rose said several Trail Blazers executives are supporting the initiative personally and that the response internally has been overwhelmingly positive.
It is yet to be seen what impact the Trail Blazers endorsement will have on the initiative should it qualify for the ballot in 2014 or if there will be significant backlash from their fans, but none of that really factored into the organization’s decision. It came down to the team doing what they felt was right, regardless of the repercussions.
“We’re not asking anyone to change their lifestyle,” said Rose. “We’re just saying this, to us, is right.”
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”