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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

MLS bans "political" signs

Deadspin destroys MLS's policy prohibiting "Using (including on any sign or other visible representation) political, threatening, abusive, insulting, offensive language and/or gestures, which includes racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior." The league and teams have interpreted that language to prohibit signs protesting racism, fascism, etc., as well as signs using racist language.

The question should be who owns the stadiums MLS teams play in and the terms of ownership and operation of these facilities. If they are publicly owned and leased to the teams or if there is a substantial public involvement in the financing, building, and operation, it might trigger arguments that MLS teams act under color of state law and thus are bound by the First Amendment. A ban on political signs in a public space opened for expression should not survive constitutional scrutiny. Particularly where, as the Deadspin piece argues, MLS has encouraged "European-style, community-minded soccer fandom," where fandom and expression about community matters (beyond the team) are intertwined.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 20, 2019 at 10:23 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink

Comments

I meant logically. I did not suggest that MLS was swayed by anything Deadspin wrote.

The only one that has been filed involved old Yankee Stadium, which was publicly owned. It settled a few months in. I have it as a State Action puzzle in my book and in class. I am not aware of any other lawsuits that have been filed--I think the analysis is too convoluted, especially after Manhattan Cable.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 21, 2019 1:29:41 PM

I just checked the MLS website and the policy is still there, so I guess Deadspin didn't quite manage to destroy it after all.

I know you've mentioned cases where a fan claimed that a professional sports team violated the First Amendment, but have any of them been resolved yet?

Posted by: jph12 | Aug 21, 2019 12:31:57 PM

I am not sure the point of this comment. High school teams play in public-school gyms and the school district, a government entity, imposes fan rules. There is no question whatsoever about state action. The issue is that the free-speech rules in a public high school are different than in the real world.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 20, 2019 11:08:24 PM

The question should be who owns the stadiums Public High School teams play in and the terms of ownership and operation of these facilities. If they are publicly owned and leased to the teams or if there is a substantial public involvement in the financing, building, and operation, it might trigger arguments that Public School teams act under color of state law and thus are bound by the First Amendment. A ban on political signs in a public space opened for expression should not survive constitutional scrutiny.

Posted by: Frederick Morsecodex | Aug 20, 2019 10:58:01 PM

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