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Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Sport and speech, again (edited slightly)

Two items.

1)  The Washington Nationals visited the White House earlier this week, down several players, including outspoken pitcher Sean Doolittle. Doolittle and others were criticized for politicizing sports; Rep. Crenshaw labeled Doolittle's actions juvenile and said "These ceremonies aren’t about your petty political sensibilities, they are about celebrating a great American pastime in the Oval Office." But the visit included one player donning a MAGA hat and receiving a presidential hug and another player heaping praise on the President. That sounds like more than a celebration of the great American pastime that happens to occur in the Oval Office--that sounds like a nakedly political celebration of the current occupant of the Oval Office. (We can debate whether MAGA is racist; there is no debate that it is an electoral message unique to one candidate). Which is fine, I suppose. But then the right of players to opt-out is more urgent--it is not a petty political sensibility, but a right not to be associated with a blatantly political message and a blatantly political event you find offensive.

2) The President will attend the LSU-Alabama game in Tuscaloosa this weekend. On Tuesday, the President of the Alabama Student Government Association sent an notice about increased security and the need to arrive early, then closed with "Any organizations that engage in disruptive behavior during the game will be removed from block seating instantly for the remainder of the season."*

[*] Alabama apparently has one home game left this season, against Western Carolina. Quite the threat.

The response was both unexpected and appropriate. By Wednesday, the SGA announced it "strongly affirms its beliefs in free speech rights and the rights of all students to express their opinions." (Good to know the student government strongly affirms the First Amendment). Of course, then it blamed the media for "assigning political context" to a message meant to be about heightened security--damn media for quoting the SGA's words. A later email did slightly better (no:

Some have misinterpreted my comment regarding ‘disruptive behavior.’ … By disruptive behavior, we are asking students to be respectful to all students and staff and avoid altercations . . . My email has nothing do with anyone’s First Amendment rights and I am sorry for any confusion. Please express yourself and especially your pride for the Tide.

But the explanation--we wanted people to avoid altercations and to show respect to staff--still beggars belief unless the SGA sends a similar message before every game. Which it clearly does not. It was obviously worried about people booing or protesting the President and did so in the ham-handed way we have come to expect from those with government power.

I like when sports/speech controversies are this easy and arise at public universities, where the application of the First Amendment is not in dispute.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 6, 2019 at 11:33 PM | Permalink


I think the Bama situation may just be chalked up to an undergraduate student being a bit careless with their words. I think it's plausible they never intended to discourage booing, but had some other sort of disruptive behavior in mind.

They may, for instance, have wanted to discourage a group of students from leading a chant of "Hey Trump! Hey Trump! We're gonna beat the hell outta you!" The O cheer is already limited by the NCAA to post-game use, and two chants only.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Nov 7, 2019 8:14:20 AM

If once can't yell "Fire!" in a theater because it may cause a stampede, can one engage in any type of verbal "disruption" in a stadium where people are packed tight and there's more than a passing chance of a large altercation ending in people falling down several stadium rows?

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Nov 7, 2019 2:00:12 AM

Howard, there you go again. Asking students enrolled in institutions of higher learning to read and embrace to Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.
If the President of the USA can't handle a few boos from a crowded stadium full of students, staff, faculty, and alumni (some of whom may be under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances) then he needs to quickly evolve thicker skin.

Posted by: Paul | Nov 7, 2019 12:35:20 AM

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