Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Castrating free speech

I'm about to turn in my sports-fan card. Forever. I'm this close. 

Why? Because this past month has been hard for me to stomach. Not just because coaches keep doing bad things (or saying things that can be construed as bad things by small but loud groups always looking to be offended) — but because the self-righteousness coming from critics makes this two sides of a germ-addled coin.

We're in a period where more people than ever are afraid to speak their minds. The Internet, ironically, is most likely the reason why — this open forum is better than any other medium at isolating and de-contextualizing words, and repeatedly hammering us with reminders of transgressions. "You'll never work in this town again" has never been a more accurate, or publicly satisfying, refrain. Whereas many years ago, random nights of debauchery could be forgotten down the line, or a public figure forgiven for relatively mild incidents, the Internet reminds us of our initial rage for all time (which can be good or pointless, depending on the case at hand). This affects not just social standing but also employment, which in this economy is the main tangible people want to protect. About the only people who aren't hesitant to speak their minds anymore are those with nothing to lose, and/or those with no sense of tact or sanity.

I'm in favor of letting people say what they want. They're only words. We won't like everything people say. And while I think there's a line that can be crossed, I think we're moving that line too far up. (I say, save that line for racism, hatred, incitement or hypocrisy — everything else is disagreement.) And that's to our detriment, because it leads to people speaking in code. The way I see it, the problem isn't what people say, but how and why they say it. We're trying to eliminate statements from public dialogue, when the real effort should be in erasing the dubious sentiments behind them.

Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen's statement that he respects Fidel Castro for his longevity, frankly, does not deserve the backlash it's getting. Granted, it's not the smartest thing he could have said — it's as if he was searching for an example of longevity, and that's who first came to mind. There have been times I've worked on something and found myself doing that, but deciding that negative connotations, even ones unrelated to my point, meant I should find a better example. As a writer, I have the luxury of doing that. In an oral interview, you don't get a do-over. 

Furthermore, Guillen wasn't pulling a Marge Schott-style endorsement of a tyrant. Schott said years ago that Hitler had some good ideas. Guillen simply expressed respect for Castro's longevity. He didn't go into how great a leader Castro was, or how his hardline critics in Miami just need to understand the man they despise. That's a very different point that would be far more deserving of outrage had he made it (and he definitely didn't). This piece at SB Nation represents exactly how I feel about the incident.

Lately I've been wondering if people won't be satisfied until everyone in pro sports is mute off the field and solemn on it. While we're at it, let's remove names and even numbers from jerseys; after all, these are team sports. Let's continue to pretend that pro sports is just about the game and that colorful characters are not part of the draw. Let's continue to get deeply outraged by absolutely every statement that anyone makes, and keep up that outrage for all time. Let's ban everyone who crosses any lines with anyone, ever. Let's eliminate all the controversy and individualism from pro sports and bring them back to the golden age when everyone knew their place. (Does Doc Brown have a button in the DeLorean for "never"?)

Please don't hold pro sports to the same free speech-squelching standards that are increasingly choking real life. If sports gets any more sterile, my fanhood won't set any longevity records.


Anonymous said...

I actually thought this blog was going tob e about something else altogether....the firing of Arkansas head coach. Because it would tie in nicely here. The guy apparently had a motocycle accident and his "mistress" was on the bike with him. Poof! he's gone. I don't understand why people's private transgressions affect their employment....if of course the transgression is only distateful yet not illegal. Or, if we are GOING to instate this rule, let's have some consistency across the board. SO that if the coach an Anthony Weiner have to go for indecency....for the love of Christ can we exile David VItter?!!!!

Anonymous said...

Aaaaand this just popped into the news.


Ian McGibboney said...

At some point, we began to see coaches (among many other odd groups of people such as sports stars and celebrities) as moral role models. I understand the reasoning behind that, but I think it gets ridiculous at times.

We (collectively) apparently define morality as being as perfect as possible. That's stupid. No one is perfect. And no one gets perfect and/or moral by being shielded from human nature. If I'm a college student and my coach gets fired for cheating on his wife (even if it is with a student, who by the way is an adult), all I've learned is that such people are monsters with no value who deserve to be cast away. And I never learn how to deal with people with flaws.

But all people have some kind of flaw. You can't change the past, so you have to learn how to accept it and press forward, especially when it involves someone you care about. You can't do that if all the "bad" people just go away every time the moral police decides they're not worthy of being what they are anymore. People can change and learn and grow. Not everyone, but most; there's a reason we take the worst offenders out of society. But do we have to do that just because they said something controversial or because of some private transgression not in infraction of any law? Is everyone a criminal?

At the rate careers are being destroyed, we're going to have to start subsidizing a lot of people.