Carolina for the Equality Win

When my own favorite team doesn't make a championship, I usually cheer for the team with the team that scores the highest on my equality card.

I look at things like player activism, team activism, player missteps and hometown politics (because I feel that cities with inclusive laws should be rewarded with, praise, lucrative sporting events and yes, even national sports titles).

Usually for the Super Bowl, my assessment comes down to hometown politics and player missteps. The NFL is only just starting to publicly enter the LGBT inclusion space. And only a handful of NFL players actively advocate for LGBT equality. But this year I've added "how well a team treats their fans" to the metrics given a recent study that revealed how poorly LGBT fans are treated.

This year, it's the Carolina Panthers for the equality win.

Recently, Bank of America Stadium, home the Carolina Panthers, quietly yet publicly affirmed their policy on transgender inclusion in the use of their bathroom facilities. All fans were encouraged to use the bathrooms consistent with their gender identity and comfort.

Keep in mind, the Panther's stadium is in Charlotte, N.C. which means the Panther's play in a city that lacks LGBT protections. Moreover, Charlotte's LGBT ordinance failed last year. So, in a city and state that lacks LGBT protections, in an uncertain LGBT political climate, they made the call to publicly state their position on a major transgender equality and inclusion issue. They choose dignity and respect for ALL of its fans.

This means that at Panther's home games, transgender fans can feel safer when they go to cheer on their favorite team. Transgender fans can also feel more welcome at games. In a time where 83 percent of Americans feel that sports events are not safe for LGBT fans, such a simple step is crucial to LGBT inclusion in the stands. It also speaks volumes about how much a fan is valued.

This move could also have significant impact outside the stands. Charlotte is in the process of trying to pass an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance again this year. Last year, this effort was derailed over the opposition's fear that all hell would break loose if transgender people were able to have access to bathrooms that matched their gender identity.

But sports, especially football, wield significant influence in Charlotte. And the Panthers are the pride of North Carolina and football icons. If LGBT fans can have access to the right bathrooms in this iconic, stereotypically transphobic space without all hell breaking loose, then maybe Charlotte will follow the championship team's example and finally makes these protections city-wide.

Charlotte's City Council will be meeting to discuss this LGBT ordinance the day after the Super Bowl. If Charlotte fans are lucky and predictions are correct, they might win doubly this month -- the Super Bowl 50 title and Charlotte equality.

You can tell a lot about a team by how hard they work on on the field and how well they treat their fans. The Carolina Panthers are winning in both categories.