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Friday, May 30, 2008
"Friendly" Confines = Confines with a Civility Code?

Yet another fan speech controversy is brewing, this one in the left-field bleachers at Wrigley Field. Cub fans have been booing Alfonso Soriano for his poor defense, which prompted Cub officials to warn fans that "any profane or inappropriate comments" toward Soriano would result in immediate rejection. (H/T: Adam Wasch, Sports Law Blog reader and president of the FIU Sports and Entertainment Law Society).

Nothing actionable here because Wrigley remains privately owned (although a move is afoot to try to get the State of Illinois to buy it, partly to keep new and despised Cubs owner Sam Zell from selling naming rights). But this example captures problems inherent in all the attempts to regulate fan speech. This is ground I have covered before, but it bears repeating.

First, "inappropriate" is vague to the point of meaningless as a standard. Inappropriate in whose eyse? The usher's? Soriano's? Some might argue that booing the home team always is inappropriate.

Second, profanity is the coin of the realm in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. The left-field bleachers were my area of choice in my Chicago days (because, after all, Right Field Sucks). And, in fact, the Cubs have gone out of their way to promote and market this image of the Bleacher Bums and their interactions with the players, fully recognizing that profanity and pointed criticism (clever or otherwise) always have been part of that. Yet now, when the fans' ire and "wit" have turned on their own, sensitivity and civility suddenly is at a premium. And again, note that it was "profane or inappropriate" comments. This was not just about stopping profanity.

Do you really want to stop fans from criticizing and jeering the home players? Do not bother trying to stop fans from speaking out. Instead, engage in a little counter-speech, Lee Elia-style.


Speaking of "Right Field Sucks," for those of you who are familiar with Lin Brehmer at 93XRT in Chicago, he expounds on random topics a few times a week. Click on the link here for "Lin's Bin," and scroll down to "Left Field" - 5/21/08. Lin sums it up pretty well. You can listen streaming or as a podcast. About 2 minutes long.

Blogger Tim Epstein -- 5/30/2008 4:58 PM  

This is a touchy subject, because on one hand you have the fan, who has paid his or her money to see the game and deserves to watch it the way they see fit. But, on the other hand you have the family, which also deserves some sort of curtsey. My problem is that stadiums and teams often tend to punish before they try and solve the problem. For instance, my Alma matter University of Maryland, College Park, always takes heat. The AD Debbie Yow (devil that is ruining the basketball program) has made mandatory no cursing rules. If the ushers catch you cursing they are allowed to throw you out, that includes profane t-shirts. These are judgment calls with no set guidelines or standards. When she took away our “you suck” theme to the tune of R n’ R, that was one thing, but these new rules are something else entirely. It feels like they are taking the entire muster out of the fan enthusiasm. People fear to play in certain places because of the obnoxious and rancorous fans that make an atmosphere of animosity, which makes it tougher to concentrate and play. Could you imagine telling the Philly fans not to Boo? Apparently freedom of speech (however low on the protection totem poll) exists everywhere but college campuses and Wriggly Field.

Anonymous Seth -- 6/02/2008 11:28 AM  

free bet

id rahter not comment, too many strong opinions here

Blogger Free Bet -- 6/02/2008 12:27 PM  

Mr. Wasserman, have you seen this? I know you have written on free speech in stadiums before.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/11/2008 11:17 AM  

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