NFL Draft

Is Philly’s NFL Draft future being held up inside a Texas bathroom bill?

City officials have displayed confidence the draft will be back in Philly, but NFL insiders peg Dallas as the front-runner.

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Dan Levy/Billy Penn
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We thought we would know whether the NFL Draft is returning to Philly in 2018 as early as the end of this month. Ron Jaworski, the former Eagles quarterback and co-chair of the Philadelphia NFL Draft Host Committee, said he expected to know the NFL’s decision by the end of June or early July.

“At this point,” Jaworski told PennLive in May, “I would be disappointed if we didn’t get it back.”

But Jaws said that before Texas scheduled a special legislative session for July 18 that could last for a month and includes discussion of a transphobic bathroom bill comparable to the controversial law passed by North Carolina. The bill has piqued the NFL’s attention, and it could prevent Dallas from hosting the draft next year.

So right now Philadelphia is in NFL Draft limbo. City officials have displayed confidence the event will return, but — Texas bathroom bill or not — the reality of it happening is bleaker. According to people in NFL circles, the draft is Dallas’ to lose. Insiders we’ve spoken with say it’s likely the only possibility of Dallas not getting the draft would be passage of a bathroom bill. And rather than have a decision made in the next few weeks as Jaworski suggested, the league is likely willing to wait.

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Ed Newton

NFL spokesman Kamran Mumtaz told Billy Penn, “we expect to have a decision on the location of next year’s draft by early fall. We also have an option to return to Philadelphia, which hosted a fantastic draft for our fans, incoming players, teams, and partners.”  Despite Philly’s anxiousness, the league is in no rush to decide, and could wait until late summer or early fall to announce next year’s location. In 2014, Chicago learned it would host the draft for the first time on Oct. 2 and that it would host for a consecutive year on Aug. 11, 2015. Philly learned the draft was officially coming here on Sept. 1, 2016, even though Congressman Bob Brady spilled the beans a few weeks earlier.

While the NFL may be favoring Dallas, the outlook still skews positive in Philadelphia. Several public officials have spoken optimistically about the possibility of the city getting the 2018 NFL Draft at various community meetings.

In the Northeast last month, while discussing how successful the draft had been, Councilman Bobby Henon told attendees of a Mayfair Civic Association meeting, “I’m hearing the chances are good.” Last month, Congressman Bob Brady told Billy Penn almost the same thing: “They loved the city, they loved the event, they loved the people. I’ve heard they’re very interested in coming back.”

Residents of The Philadelphian, many of whom voiced opposition to construction and traffic on the Parkway, hosted deputy managing director of Philadelphia Brian Abernathy, deputy managing director for the Office of Special Events Jazelle Jones and deputy managing director of community and culture Dave Wilson last week. Abernathy and Jones told the residents that nothing was off the table and no contract had been signed for next year, according to two people present at the meeting.

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Dan Levy/Billy Penn

Dallas was rumored as the frontrunner for the 2018 draft in an early April report by ESPN’s Field Yates. But even before then the NFL had begun expressing concerns about bathroom bill legislation. It released a statement in February saying, “If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law (in Texas), that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events.” Commissioner Roger Goodell criticized North Carolina for its previous bathroom bill but didn’t call for any boycotts or bans on events in the state. The NBA moved the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans because of the Carolina law. The NBA has since awarded the 2019 All-Star Game to Charlotte,  only after changes were made to the law.

There’s no clear consensus on the likelihood of Texas passing the bill. Politicians and business leaders have been fighting over one for months.

The most current iteration would basically prevent cities from passing their own anti-discrimination laws and cancel local laws in certain cities that allow transgender people to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. Since a much-stricter Senate version was first introduced in January, moderate Republicans and Democrats have been at odds with conservative Republicans.

The Texas Senate passed the bill in March, but it stalled at the committee level in the House, with Republican speaker Joe Straus criticizing it and Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick pushing for its passage. The House ended up tacking on an amendment to another bill in May that would have forced children in public schools to use the restrooms of their biological identity or use single-occupancy restrooms, but the Senate turned it down.

Philadelphia’s contract with the NFL for the 2017 draft contained a mutual option for 2018. By most accounts, the city thrived, with reporters, fans and NFL insiders thrilled at the carnival atmosphere on the Parkway and is a definite yes for next year. Now, the city waits in hopes the NFL to say yes too.

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