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Wednesday, December 19, 2007
When Will They Ever Learn?

Count the New York Knicks as the latest team to think it is a good idea to restrict fans from criticizing an incompetent coach, team, and organization. The New York Times reports on two recent examples. (H/T: Deadspin). Last week, a fan was moved to a new seat and issued a written warning for heckling Head Coach Isiah Thomas; the card read "You are being issued a warning that the comments, gestures and/or behaviors that you have directed at players, coaches, game officials and/or other spectators constitute excessive verbal abuse." On Monday, a fan had a "Fire Isiah sign" confiscated, pursuant to a policy that prohibits signs that block the views of other patrons.

No First Amendment problem here; the Garden is privately owned and privately financed, so the Knicks can control fan speech however they want. And at least the sign policy is content-neutral, thus likely valid even in a publicly owned arena.

But at some point won't teams figure out this is not worth it? In exchange for removing one sign that probably was not blocking anyone's view (see above), the team gets more bad publicity and it sent the fans into the streets, literally: A "Fire Isiah" rally was held on the 7th Avenue side of the Garden today, complete with an 8-foot-tall pink slip. Maybe the Knicks are so desensitized to bad publicity at this point that it does not matter.

But professional sports teams sell themselves to the community as a public good; that is the argument for obtaining public financing of stadiums and other public support. In exchange for that, teams ought to expect some criticism from fans when they run that public good into the ground.

Update: 7 p.m. C.S.T.:

ESPN story on the protest, which drew about two dozen people. You can see the 8X4 pink slip in the photo.


I still really like Dahlia Lithwick's concise summary of the subject (or a later one), but I lament that the Pruneyard dreams of my youth--free speech everywhere! No bogus private zones!--are likely dashed a little bit . . .

Blogger gorjus -- 12/19/2007 3:46 PM  

Firing Isiah would be pointless so long as Doleful Dolan continues to own the team.

Iron Rails & Iron Weights

Anonymous Anonymous -- 12/20/2007 12:28 PM  

This could present an interesting issue in Green Bay, where the team and the stadium are a publicly traded company. Is a publicly owned stadium a traditional forum for speech? Any Con Law minded Cheese Heads out there?

Blogger mgoff -- 12/27/2007 5:52 PM  

Different type of "public." Public for constitutional purposes means the government. The Packers and Lambeau are public not in that they are the government, but that shares are traded to and among members of the public on stock markets--the same as, say, Coke or AT&T. "Public" in that sense is in contrast to a "closed" corporation, where shares are not available to the public at large. No constitutional obligations attach simply because a company is publicly traded.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 1/06/2008 6:22 PM  

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