Much has been made about the 5 St. Louis Rams wide receivers going onto the field last weekend with their hands in the air in support of Michael Brown and the statement in response to that act by Jeff Roorda, a spokesman for the St. Louis Police Officers Association. Of course, some people immediately tried to turn this into a First Amendment issue – which it is not – saying that the players were free to express themselves here. Roorda’s response was that police officers have First Amendment rights too – which is correct – and would that he had left it there. Roorda went on to say that it was the police who kept order at the stadium during games and around the team and that police officers may choose to exercise their own demonstration to show how they feel about the way they have been portrayed in the whole “Ferguson/Michael Brown matter”.
And that is where Mr. Roorda seems to have nudged his way right up to the edge of the limits on free speech if not stepped ever so slightly over that line. I am not a Constitutional scholar by any means, but the First Amendment forbids the government – whether that be State government or the Federal government – from restricting one’s ability to express any opinion at all regarding the government. The Founding Fathers sought to protect political speech; that was an important element of the times surrounding the American Revolution.
What the 5 Rams’ players did was to express an oblique form of political speech; their action allies them with other folks who do not approve of the grand jury decision (grand juries are part of the governance mechanisms of the country) not to indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. That kind of expression by any citizen is protected speech if the person or entity that might seek to suppress that speech is part of the government. I can sit here and type words telling all those people to shut up and get on with their lives and I have not impinged on their free speech even a little bit. [For the record, I am not telling any of those folks to do that; I was simply using myself as a private citizen as an example here.]
Now Mr. Roorda is part of the St. Louis Police Officers Association and while that is not of itself a government entity, the police officers who nominally make up the membership of that Association are part of a government entity. Therefore, when Mr. Roorda asked the NFL to punish/sanction those five players for their act, I think he was edging up to the line where he may have started to infringe on their free expression rights.
Now if it were ever to happen that the police officers chose not to do their duty to maintain order in and around the stadium as a “punishment” or “payback” for the players’ gestures, I think they would then be over the line in terms of obstructing the free speech of the players.
The entire situation in Ferguson, MO is a sad mess. People who riot in the streets and burn cars and loot shops do not make the situation better. Spokespersons for police organizations who imply that police protection might perhaps be contingent on taking the police side in that situation do not make the situation better. Shouldn’t intelligent adults and people of good will have as their objective to “make the situation better”?
Oh by the way, with regard to the request to the NFL for the league to punish or sanction these 5 players somehow, I want to give the league the highest marks possible for saying – politely – that they are not going to do that. Employers can legally and justifiably punish employees for saying things detrimental to the employer’s business but the NFL adroitly decided to stay out of the middle of this situation – one that it cannot resolve and one that is not of their doing. In the current climate of “tough enforcement of the personal conduct policy” by the NFL, it could have chosen to weigh in here; that would have been a huge mistake and I commend the league for letting this one pass them by.
I mentioned above that employers can legally and justifiably punish employees for things they say. Consider the situation earlier this week when a Congressional staff member criticized the President’s daughters for the way they were dressed. The Congressman either accepted the staff member’s resignation or the Congressman fired her. The woman is out of a job. She was expressing her own opinion but the act of that expression was not in line with the way the Congressman wants his operation to be perceived. Hence, this woman is now looking for work.
She has the right to her opinion and has the right to express that opinion. However, the First Amendment does not protect her from any and all recriminations that may arise from her choosing to express that opinion. [For the record, I really do not care how the President’s daughters choose to adorn themselves. At the same time, I think firing someone for criticizing anyone else’s attire is a tad harsh. But what done was legal and justifiable…]
Demonstrating that I have an almost insatiable appetite for football, I tuned in to watch the second half of the Grey Cup game last weekend between the Calgary Stampeders and the Hamilton TigerCats. The Stampeders won the game 20-16 and their QB, Bo Levi Mitchell, was the player of the game. Mitchell threw for over 300 yards and completed more than 70% of his passes. Mitchell played college football at Eastern Washington. I enjoy Canadian football and I very much enjoyed watching the second half of the Grey Cup game but there was this thought running through my mind for the whole telecast after I saw the graphic with the name “Bo Levi Mitchell”.
Some NFL team needs to give this guy a tryout – because if he can start for an NFL team, think of the marketing possibilities:
Picture of Mitchell with the caption “I Bo-Lieve in Bo Levi”. That can go on shirts, caps, drink cups etc.
An area of the stadium can be designated for “The Bo-Lievers”
When he runs out of the tunnel onto the field, the DJ can play the Hallelujah Chorus.
I tell you; this has definite possibilities. Now, if he can only get a shot and make a team…
Finally, with regard to the Raiders’ future coaching situation, here is a comment from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:
“Jon Gruden is playing hard to get, but my sources tell me the Raiders believe they have a shot at landing Frank Caliendo.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………