Balls: Indiana has it all backwards in Freedom Restoration Act 

The state of Indiana might never have the Final Four and other big sporting events again after the state Senate passed the Freedom of Restoration Act last week. - MICHAEL CONROY/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Michael Conroy/AP file photo
  • The state of Indiana might never have the Final Four and other big sporting events again after the state Senate passed the Freedom of Restoration Act last week.

Welcome to Indiana, home of the Zoopolis 500, the annual tortoise race.

If the Hoosier yahoos don't do something about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and do it soon, Indiana will be lucky to have that much.

As you may have heard, last week the Indiana Senate passed Bill 101, which "prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion." That could give businesses the legal grounds to deny gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender customers. If Indiana really does turn back the clock 50 years, it will turn into a sports wasteland in no time. No reputable sports organization or league will want to be within a ZIP code of it in the future, namely, the NCAA, which has its headquarters in Indianapolis.

So long, Big Ten Conference Tournament and Final Four. See ya, Indy 500. Buh-bye, NFL scouting combine. You, too, Super Bowl.

The mindless development couldn't come at a worse time for the NCAA, what with the Final Four in Indianapolis this weekend. It already has expressed "concern" about the new legislation and assured visitors that they would not be impacted negatively.

"The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events," NCAA President Mark Emmert said. "We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. ... Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."

Everyone from athletes to sports agents have weighed in on the matter already.

In an email to the New York Times, agent Arn Tellem urged the Indiana Pacers, the NCAA and professional sports leagues to "not only condemn this blatantly unconstitutional legislation, but also to take forceful action against it by re-evaluating their short- and long-term plans in the state." One of Tellem's clients is Stanford product and former NBA player Jason Collins, the first professional athlete in the four major team sports to come out as gay publicly.

Then there's Pacers legend Reggie Miller, who said via Twitter: "I'm very disappointed in my adopted home state. I've always been about inclusion for all, no matter your skin color, gender or sexual preference. We are all the same, beautiful creatures."

Not if you're in Anaidni, apparently. That's Indiana spelled backwards.

SAGER SAGA HITS HOME: Barely four weeks ago, I was the first person to speak with TNT's Craig Sager when he entered the arena for the first time since leukemia took him down last year. The popular sideline reporter looked a bit weak at the time — a bone marrow transplant is known to do that — but his mood was decidedly upbeat.

"I'm 60 yards shorter off the tee, but I feel good," Sager said at the time.

The 63-year-old Sager was absolutely thrilled to be in his element again. "It's not just the games. It's the people," he told me. "The NBA is such a family. I try to get there three hours before the game, talk with the ushers and the security guards, the coaches and the fans ... I just missed the whole atmosphere. I like being there."

Sager also was cautiously optimistic. When I asked him about the future, he said it took about three years to receive a clean bill of health after such an ordeal.

Well, the news couldn't have been much lousier last weekend, when Sager's family announced on Twitter that the leukemia was back again. That means more hell in chemotherapy and who knows what else.

We should all root for Sager to make a permanent comeback. At a time when too many sideline reporters are hired on the basis of their physical attributes, he's a throwback to another era.

Oh, Sager has his loud sports jackets, all right, but he was hired because he was good at what he did. He knows the players and the league. He also knows how to get the most out coaches in the few seconds there are between timeouts. Turner has done well to keep him for 34 years.

Sager said he had never missed a day of work before he took ill in Dallas in April. He received six blood transfusions in the next day. Then Sager underwent a bone marrow transplant from his son, Craig, and spent part of his absence in isolation. Everyone from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich reached out in support.

"I can't say this has been any great revelation that turned me into a different person," Sager told me. "I've always appreciated my job. What I do appreciate more is the time I spend with my family. Now I don't pay as much attention to how far it is to the green as much as the smell of the grass and the sound of the birds around me."

His words should be a reminder for all of us.

BUSINESS AS USUAL: WrestleMania 31 was billed as a dry run for Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium, and by most accounts, it went off without a hitch. More than 76,000 fans made a lot of noise, ate a lot of food and drank a lot of beer. Transit traffic was a bit heavy and a few arrests were made, but there were no more than three people in a commode at the same time.

It was kinda weird that the heavyweight match was won by someone other than a heavyweight, but hey, that's no different than a slant pass into traffic on the 1-yard line in the final minute of a close game.

NO NEWS, GOOD NEWS: Balls found this bit of good news for the 49ers and their fans: The NFL higher-ups aren't mad at them yet.

The Atlanta Falcons were fined and docked a draft pick because they piped in fake crowd noise. Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer drew a four-gamer because he sent text messages on the sidelines while games were in progress.

Of course, the 49ers still could be fined for a fake head coach.

JUST ASKIN': Say NFL commish Roger Goodell, how is that exhaustive, in-depth Deflategate investigation coming along these days?

pladewski@sfexaminer.com

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