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Freedom Of Speech

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"Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill." Someone once said.

I stumbled across this sentence when I was roaming the internet and I thought to myself this applies more to professional athletes than anyone else. Whether they like it or not professional athletes are thrown into the spotlight as soon or maybe even sooner then the day they are drafted. And waiting on the other side is the media. Yes, those bloodsuckers that seems to blow everything out of proportion on a daily basis. But someone has to do it, don't they! So I ponder: why do professional athletes get heat for comments that they may or may not make in an interview. How is this freedom of speech? They don't choose what gets printed; they get paid to play sports. Comments made in a post game press conference are no different than those of fans sitting at home watching the game, except there is TV camera in front of them.

For example; on a Sunday morning pre-game show future hall of fame wide receiver and now ESPN analyst, Michael Irvin, said that if Brett Favre (Green Bay Packers quarterback) was the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles than they would be undefeated rather 4-3. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Following those comments, Terrell Owens, a highly scrutinized receiver from the Philadelphia Eagles, agreed with Irvin's comments and went as far as to say that "there was no doubt in his mind they would be, simply by what he brings to the table." At that time, I'm sure Owens probably could have and should have shut his mouth and disregarded Irvin's comments but he didn't, and why should he have to? Freedom of Speech means the liberty to freely say what one pleases, as well as the related liberty to hear what others have stated. It has been commonly understood as encompassing all types of expression, including the freedom to create and distribute movies, pictures, songs, dances, and all other forms of expressive communication. (Webster's Dictionary) This was considered the "straw that broke the camels back' and was the final incident in a short yet very strenuous tenure for Owens in the Eagles franchise, but the result of those comments cost him seven games worth of an NFL salary (he had 2 years 14 million left) cost him his ability to play the sport that's made him and a lot of national integrity. That does not sound like Terrell Owens has free speech.

Owens is certainly not the only victim of the media's brash and unruly ways. He's one of many people to be put in the spotlight because of words; hell, it's done every single day in papers and television programs worldwide. For the most part media controversy, dealing with athletes, dealt with issues within the team, however now a day's controversy is growing and the topics are getting more passionate and far more intense.

John Rocker, a former closer for the Atlanta Braves, hit problems, head on five, years ago. Not only did he upset his teammates, friends and family but he stirred a nation wide controversy. Rocker sat down for an interview with Sports Illustrated magazine. The interview took place during the middle of the MLB season and Rocker's contract expired at the end of the season. The topic of free agency came up in the interview and Rocker was asked about possibly playing for metropolitan area teams such as the New York Yankees or the New York Mets. Rocker shot down that idea with some pretty harsh words. His reasons for not wanting to play in New York were; (all quotes coming from Sports Illustrated)

* On ever playing for a New York team: "I would retire first. It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [Number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."

* On New York City itself: "The biggest things I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?"

* "So many dumb asses don't know how to drive in this town," he says, Billy Joel's New York State of Mind humming softly from the radio. "They turn from the wrong lane. They go 20 miles per hour. It makes me want -- Look! Look at this idiot! I guarantee you she's a Japanese woman." A beige Toyota is jerking from lane to lane. The woman at the wheel is white. "How bad are Asian women at driving?"

After this whole episode, Rocker played a four game series at Shea Stadium (home of the New York Mets). He was heavily booed and had things thrown at him including batteries, amongst other things. He also got in a verbal spat with a fan who was sitting over the Brave's dugout. New York was not the only party to be truly upset over Rocker's remarks; he was ordered by baseball to undergo psychological tests before deciding whether to punish the outspoken reliever for remarks he made. How can this happen? John Rocker, although stupid and ignorant in his interview, had every right to say what he did and not get punished from baseball. He had New York to deal with as it was. There is a lot of racism in the world; I don't see psychiatric tests being taken because someone expressed their dislike for nationalities or certain sexual orientations.

It is clear that professional sports are boosted into a bigger and brighter spotlight than almost any other entertainment in the world. And it's important to keep a sharp image in the public eye. To take someone's freedom of speech away is to go against the first amendment. It would be nice to think that every athlete who does an interview would be mature enough and not to make remarks of that nature but the truth is they aren't. Most athletes now a days, especially with the amount of youth that is being infiltrated in modern day sports are young men, who may have never learned "the proper things to say" and they say what they think is right. I think that athletes' quotes need to be looked at in a different light because most of the interviews come right after games and in some cases games become very emotional to the extent that it might sway a post game attitude and cause someone to make remarks that normally they wouldn't have made.

Television Analysts,



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