Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Will the NFL Suspend Tony Dungy for Comments About First Openly Gay NFL Player, Michael Sam?

Unless you're living in a cave, you know that ex-Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy made comments about the first openly gay NFL player Michael Sam that have stirred up some controversy.  For those cave dwellers, the story was broken earlier this week by Tampa Tribune columnist Ira Kaufmann:
Tony Dungy
“I wouldn’t have taken him,’’ said former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy, now an analyst for NBC. “Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play,
but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it.
“It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.’’
The last couple days Dungy as tried to walk back those comments, explaining what he really meant.

Already calls are going out for the NFL to suspend Dungy.  Earlier this year the NBA imposed a lifetime suspension on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for racist comments he made during a private conversation he had with his girlfriend.   The past few years have seen a number o TV and radio hosts lose their jobs because of comments they made that were not politically correct.

The issue is not the legality of those actions.  Private entities are not bound by the dictates of the First Amendment.

But the fact that the First Amendment doe not technically apply does not mean that the principles of the Free Speech clause have no relevance in terms of what policy  those private entities should follow.  We cherish free speech in this country, and rightfully so because punishing someone for their politically incorrect opinions is a slippery slope to the censorship of all non-majority opinions.

Let me be one of the few to say it, the NBA way overreacted to Sterling's comments.  They could have given Sterling a brief suspension, consistent with similar speech offenses, and let his comments stand as a lesson about how wrong racism is.  A "teaching moment" as they say. The antidote to bad speech after all isn't suppressing that bad speech but rather good speech.   NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been wrongly praised for how he handled the Sterling matter.  He kicked an 80 year old man with outdated racial views, who possibly suffers from dementia, when he was down.  Silver took the cheap, politically correct way out instead of setting a precedent that punished Sterling appropriately while recognizing that people should have some freedom to express their political and racial views, even when those views are unpopular.   Is what Sterling did the absolute worst thing an owner could have ever done?  If not, why is he getting the most severe punishment a Commissioner can impose on an owner?

It seems every week we hear about some celebrity or reality star saying something politically incorrect and losing their TV job.  Chilling unpopular speech by threats to people's livelihoods does not make us better.  Free speech makes us better.

Tony Dungy should have the freedom to express his views and people have a right to respond to those views, offering their own.  People have done that.  That exchange of ideas is what makes this country great.

Hopefully the silly talk of suspending Dungy will go nowhere.


Kilroy said...

Dungy does not work in the NFL and has not since 2009. I'm not sure how the NFL could suspend or punish someone that doesn't work for them?

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