Sports and Freedom of Speech: Where is The Line?


In the previous edition of The Trinity Tripod, there was an opinion piece addressing the controversy of a cartoon published by the Herald Sun, an Australian newspaper, depicting Serena Williams’s tantrum in the finals of the US Open. This article raised several points concerning freedom of speech that were misleading and that mischaracterized some common arguments.

To commence the article, the author asserts, “The right to freedom of speech is not equivalent to the right to impunity.” In a legal sense, this is generally false; however, there are some exceptions. If one’s speech is protected under the First Amendment, one does have the right to impunity – One cannot be legally punished for protected speech. I also do not believe that many individuals think that freedom of speech comes with no consequences. There are consequences, positive and negative, that come with all instances of speech. In the case of the cartoon, there is no doubt that the illustrator of the image, Mark Knight, will face social consequences for his work, potentially losing both friends and respect. Furthermore, the Herald Sun could face negative economic consequences for its choice to publish the image. Even if there are no legal consequences stemming from offensive or hateful speech there will always be consequences of another form.

The author then proclaims that “freedom of speech is the clear argument of racists and misogynists alike,” implying that if one argues in favor of freedom of speech then one is likely a racist or a misogynist; this is an asinine and disturbing proposition. The author later implies that the First Amendment, in the case of this cartoon, allows “closeted racists from stepping out of their shell to endorse any intolerant white man in the name of the Constitution.” Regardless of whether one believes the cartoon to be racist, one must acknowledge that simply recognizing the artist’s right to say what he pleases does not mean that one endorses the artist’s message. Just as I accept that Trump has the right to say what he wants does not mean that I endorse what he says.

Speaking to the repercussions received by the artist, the author asks, “Why is it that people who are rightly angered over racist portrayals of their kind face backlash and are deemed to argue against freedom of speech?” Well, there is an important distinction to be made: what are those angered people advocating for? If one, in response to this cartoon, claims that the artist should be fined, jailed, or not allowed to publish the image in the first place, then one, in fact, is arguing against freedom of speech. In addition, artistic expression is recognized by the courts as a protected form of speech If, however, one is only arguing that the image is racist/bigoted, then counter the cartoon with more speech to expose and refute the artist’s alleged racist ideals. There is a clear and stark difference between arguing against the message someone spreads and arguing against someone’s right to say it.

To contrast the previous question, the author questions why “those who made the conscious decision to denounce an entire race are defended with the American flag.” Yes, it is true that racist speech, including what some consider “hate speech” is protected under the First Amendment. However, the First Amendment also protects your right to protest and counter that hateful speech and expose the flawed presuppositions and beliefs of their racist views.

Very critical of the First Amendment, the author argues that it “has allowed us to expose the underground racists and give them a safe place to publicize their thoughts and in turn, reveal the penetrating racism in a country known as ‘the melting pot.’” As I have explained prior, the First Amendment also allows us to counter these “underground racists,” however, I disagree with the a priori belief that racists have a “safe place” within society to expound their views. They are only safe from the government; they are by no means safe from social consequences. In addition, racists can, in most cases, be fired by their private employer for their publicized, bigoted ideas. Furthermore, to counter racists one need not remove their right to speak. In the words of Obama, “You don’t have to be fearful of somebody spouting bad ideas, just out-argue them. Beat them. Make the case as to why they’re wrong.”

To conclude, the author argues that “it is obvious that our society has…made it easier for those with horrible intentions to flaunt their thoughts and in turn, create a society in which those who aren’t born with privilege to constantly be the subject of hate.” While people with “horrible intentions” are free to spread their ideas, it is paramount that those individuals attempting to stop those people with horrible intentions are also free to speak and oppose them. Imagine a United States without the First Amendment… If those people with “horrible intentions” obtained power, they could completely and absolutely end all public dissent and opposition. That is why we need freedom of speech – It is imperative that any minority can express their view to the majority, regardless of how offensive or insensitive that opinion may be.

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