The NAACP is urging professional athletes to consider not signing with professional sports teams in Texas to protest the state's controversial voting and abortion laws.
In an open letter to players associations for the NBA, WNBA, NFL, NHL and MLB, leaders of the civil rights organization cited "recent attacks on voting rights" and new restrictions on women's reproductive freedoms as reasons for free agents to reconsider moving their families "to a state that is not safe for anyone."
"As we watch an incomprehensible assault on basic human rights unfold in Texas, we are simultaneously witnessing a threat to constitutional guarantees for women, children and marginalized communities," wrote NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson and NAACP Texas President Gary Bledsoe in the joint two-page letter. "Over the past few months, legislators in Texas have passed archaic policies, disguised as laws, that directly violate privacy rights and a woman's freedom to choose, restrict access to free and fair elections for Black and brown voters, and increase the risk of contracting coronavirus. If you are a woman, avoid Texas. If you are Black, avoid Texas. If you want to lower your chances of dying from coronavirus, avoid Texas."
The letter calls on athletes to consider not only their influential platforms as professional athletes, but also their responsibility as parents and role models for the community and those in their personal lives.
"Free agents have options, and we want them to know exactly what they are getting into should they choose to sign with a franchise here in Texas,” Bledsoe told NBC DFW. “The African American community has been marginalized and minimized."
In May, Texas' Republican Gov. Greg Abbot signed a law that bans abortions a once medical professionals can detect the first flutters of cardiac activity in an embryo — usually around six weeks, before some women know they’re pregnant. That conflicts with Supreme Court precedent, which says states are prohibited from banning abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks of pregnancy. However, because the law leaves enforcement to private citizens, who can sue doctors or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion, it has so far made it unusually difficult to challenge in courts. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the case on Nov. 1.
In their letter, the NAACP called the $10,000 incentive to sue all who aid women in exercising their constitutional right to an abortion a "modern-day bounty in exchange for the health and safety of women and children."
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The open letter also references voting restricting enacted in September that make it harder -- sometimes even legally riskier -- to cast a ballot in the state, which already had some of the nation's most restrictive voting laws. The letter's authors point to recently redrawn district maps, saying they "dilute the voices of people of color" and make Texas "a state of hostility" for black and brown communities.
"Recently released data from the 2020 census shows that people of color have driven 95% of the Texas population growth," they wrote. "Yet, new voting legislation and political maps put these communities at risk of not being able to participate in their democracy. These laws are intended to suppress our constitutional right to vote."
The letter closes with a plea for free agents who are considering employment in Texas to "look elsewhere."
"The Texas government will not protect your family. Demand that Texas owners invest in your rights and protect your investments. Texas is not safe for you, your spouse, or your children. Until the legislation is overturned, Texas isn’t safe for anyone."
Bledsoe said while the NAACP supports Texas teams, it's more important for people to "have dignity than have a good football team to root for." He called the letter a public service message.
Major sports teams in Texas include the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers in MLB, the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys in the NFL, the Dallas Stars in the NHL and the Dallas Wings in the WNBA.
Shaun Naidoo, an attorney and sports agent based in Dallas, said the appeal by the NAACP puts a lot of pressure of athletes, especially those who come from low-income backgrounds and are trying to make a name for themselves and earn a living.
"I think when you put a burden or pressure on them to now make a social statement if they don't understand all the ramifications of that, you could take away their livelihood and that's something we want to be really careful of," Naidoo said.
But Bledsoe argues that scenario won't be the case for most free agents, who usually get more than one offer to consider. He said it boils down to choosing what's important.
"If you get an offer of a million-dollar contract from a Texas team you are probably going to get one from another team, too,” Bledsoe said. “And there are areas in this country where they respect African Americans. Where African Americans are able to participate more in governmental affairs."
To read more from the NAACP and see the letter click here.
NBC's Danielle Abreu contributed to this report.