Do First Amendment rights exist in sports?
TUESDAY, 04 OCTOBER 2011 10:47
BY EVAN WEINER
THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
If you watch the cable TV news networks or listen to newstalk radio or go through social media and message boards, you find out there are many United States Constitutional experts living throughout the country which probably comes as a big surprise to frustrated social studies teachers in junior high schools and high schools around the country. Those teachers probably didn't realize that when the lesson plan turn to the constitution the students really were listening while they dozed off as they ticked off every point the country's founding fathers articulated.
Some of those constitutional experts know all about the Second Amendment or whatever number they have specialized in so this may come as a shock for those who know the document inside out thanks to newstalk radio show hosts.
The first amendment need not apply to the freedom of speech in sports. Dallas Mavericks owner (and freelance writer) Mark Cuban has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines speaking his mind when it comes to matters in the National Basketball Association. The NBA Commissioner David Stern has levied fines against Cuban for talking about the NBA's officiating. According to some media outlets Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan was fined $100,000 for his words which looked like rather benign comments about the NBA lockout to a reporter from the Herald News in Australia.
Jordan told the reporter that "the model we've been operating under is broken. We have 22 or 23 teams losing money, (so) I think we have gotta come to some kind of understanding in this partnership that we have to realign." It is not surprising that Michael Jordan, one of the three players who made David Stern a sports genius was fined. Sports leagues seem to have no probably squashing and trampling over first amendment rights and that applies to opinion piece writers as well for someone writing about sports business for a newspaper that happened to be owned and operated by a Major League Baseball franchise baron.
The Chicago Tribune Company owned the Chicago Cubs and in the company's media portfolio was the Baltimore Sun. In late July 2002, while Major League Baseball owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association were negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, I was an occasional contributor to the Sun writing Op-Ed pieces for Richard Gross's Op-Ed page. Richard was going on vacation but before he left he edited down one of my thought pieces which instructed baseball fans how to fight back against Major League Baseball owners by boycotting their "real" businesses. It was on the possible work stoppage in baseball sometime in late August or early September. We went over the piece, we both agreed it was in the "all the news fit to print" category and were satisfied with the result.
Richard left on vacation and the opinion piece never saw the light of day until 2005 in a book of my columns which was targeted for sports business management students in colleges and universities. Some higher up at the Chicago Tribune Company killed the piece. Those “higher ups” were never identified but it hit too close to home for them.
Officially the Baltimore Sun stance was that the paper didn’t support boycotts but that didn’t fly as the paper supported the South Africa economic boycott during that country’s days of Apartheid.
The column just didn’t fit with the Baltimore Sun’s style.
It was too radical for the staid Chicago Tribune Company and CEO Stanton Cook, one of the alleged architects of the 1994 baseball meltdown which cost the industry the playoffs and World Series.
"If you listen to sports talk radio or read writers from all walks of life writing about a possible baseball strike, there is a sense of resignation: The fans are saps with no voice who are hopelessly devoted to baseball.
"Simply put, baseball fans have no control over the situation in the spat between multi-millionaire owners and millionaire players if and when the players walk out.
"But baseball fans should know they can fight back and hit both sides hard where it hurts?
"The pocketbook. And here's how the fans can mount a counteroffensive:
"They should contact their state attorney general's office and make sure a mechanism is in place to ensure that they get refunds from games missed on cable TV. The refunds to the country's 86 million cable subscribers, who receive sports channels even if they don't want them, should come from the cable TV owners who transmit the baseball games.
"In Baltimore, that's Comcast, because it has the rights to show the Orioles.
"Fans should call their local, not national, elected officials. In those cities where the municipality helped to pay for a new baseball stadium, make sure that the team continues to pay rent during a baseball work stoppage. Municipalities should sue if a team withholds its rent because games were canceled.
"Baseball fans have enormous power; all they have to do is act. There's the all-time favorite, the boycott.
"For example, if fans are upset with San Francisco Giants owner Peter McGowan, don't shop at Safeway; he's a director of the supermarket's board after having been its chairman and CEO. If Dodger fans don't like Rupert Murdoch's role in the baseball stalemate, they don't have to watch the Fox network or go to movies produced by 20th Century Fox.
"Hungry and want some pizza? Don't buy Detroit Tiger owner Mike Ilitch's Little Caesar's products.
"Looking to go to a theme park in Orlando, Fla., or southernbCalifornia? Scratch the Disney parks in either locale. Also don't watch ESPN, ESPN2, ESP News, ESPN Classic, listen to ESPN Radio or see any Disney movies. The Walt Disney Co. owns the Anaheim Angels.
“AOL Time Warner owns the Atlanta Braves. You can drop AOL as your Internet provider and seek another one. You don't have to buy Sports Illustrated, Time or People, watch CNN or CNN Headline News, the Cartoon Channel, HBO or go to New Line Cinema movies, buy Kodak products or spend a day at Warner Brothers Recreation Enterprises and theme parks or buy Atlantic Records products.
"Check stadium names. Budweiser, or Busch Stadium (St. Louis), Coors Field (Denver), Miller Park (Milwaukee), Minute Maid Field (Houston), Tropicana Field (St. Petersburg) are spending millions on partnerships, but there are other beers and juices to drink.
"Bank One (Phoenix), Comerica (Detroit) and PNC (Pittsburgh) aren't the only financial institutions around. Edison (Anaheim) and Cinergy (Cincinnati) are just two energy companies available. Network Associates (Oakland) and Qualcomm (San Diego) are just two of many technology companies. Don't shop at Safeco (Seattle).
"Fans don't need to buy baseball cards, which puts money into player's pockets, nor do they need to attend baseball card shows or stand in line for autographs.
"Fans should boycott buying licensed products and keep their money in their pockets instead of lining the pockets of both players and owners. “Sure, fans can boycott a game here and there and make a minor stand. But that won't send any messages to the owners and players who continue to bicker over how to split up billions of dollars.
"Some 70 million people attend Major League baseball games annually. Millions watch them on TV or listen to them on the radio. If just a fraction of that audience reacts, both the owners and players will get the message, and it could force a settlement in a hurry."
In 2002, the owners and players settled without a labor action.
When Richard Gross returned to work he had no real explanation for me. It wasn't his fault that someone upstairs had killed the column and clearly someone was very concerned about the thoughts.
No one today is suggesting a boycott of other NBA held businesses.
In New York James Dolan and Cablevision would feel an impact of Cablevision subscribers defecting to satellite TV because there are no Knicks games being played thanks to an owners’ lockout. In Los Angeles, Donald Sterling probably doesn't have to worry about turning people off from his residential holdings because his Los Angeles Clippers players have been locked out of the workplace. No NBA beat sportswriter would ever dare write that as that would be treason and all friendly accessibility to the team would be lost.
But it would be very easy to track the other businesses for some enterprising writer who worked for an outlet whose history included supporting the South Africa boycott.
Dolan bought Newsday from the Chicago Tribune Company and the business of the Knicks and the lockout's impact on that team will probably go unreported as will the 1998-99 lockout effort by Golden State Warriors owner Chris Cohan to avoid paying rent to the Oakland Coliseum owners Oakland and Alameda County taxpayers because he didn't play games as scheduled.
Cohan ended up paying the rent after going to arbitration and sold his team in 2010 for about $450 million.
The Chicago Tribune Company sold the Baltimore Sun along with other papers and properties to former Chicago White Sox minority partner Sam Zell who apparently overpaid for the properties and could not afford to maintain the newspaper at 2002 worker levels. The Sun is a shell of a newspaper these days. The Cubs franchise along with Wrigley Field also was jettisoned.
There is limited free speech in sports. People like NBA Commissioner David Stern and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gagged NBA and NFL owners and threatened them with fines for talking about the lockouts. Goodell fined Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams for giving the finger to someone as he sat in his owner’s box watching his Titans play. Major League Baseball commissioners have put up gag orders on the owners during labor talks.
Sports fans and constitutional experts on radio, TV and message boards should take note.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition" is available at bickley.com, Barnes and Noble or Amazon Kindle.