This isn’t a “free speech” issue. It’s an abuse issue. A ticket doesn’t give fans the unfettered right to verbally abuse players for their entertainment pleasure.
Last week the NBA announced that it is enacting stricter “zero-tolerance” rules for abusive fan behavior towards its players.
The changes were spurred by data that indicated that fan behavior was getting worse, punctuated by multiple high-profile incidents between fans and players last season, including a nasty incident involving star player Russell Westbrook and a fan in Salt Lake City. As ESPN reported, “Westbrook and Cousins were subjected to racist taunts in Salt Lake City and Boston, and the fans involved in those incidents were banned by the Jazz and Celtics. Lowry was shoved by Mark Stevens, a minority partner of the Golden State Warriors’ ownership group who was seated courtside during the NBA Finals, and Stevens was banned from team business for a year by the league.”
It’s not only racist comments that will get you kicked out. As Jerome Pickett, the NBA’s Executive VP and Chief Security Officer, explained, “We’ve added any sexist language or LGBTQ language, any denigrating language in that way, anything that is non-basketball-related. So ‘your mother’ comments, talking about your family, talking about test scores, anything non-basketball-related, we’ve added that in as well as being something that we will go and pull a fan out of the seat and investigate what happened.”
While fans may complain that this impinges on their “free speech rights,” that particular complaint just shows how little Americans really understand about the First Amendment. The First Amendment only applies to governmental attempts to limit speech, not private enterprises like the NBA. Also as much as consequence-free speech might be desirable in some people’s fantasy’s, in reality, no “free speech” right guarantees the right to be free from the consequences of one’s speech.
It’s called “accountability.”
So, if you’re the type of fanatic who thinks that your ticket to a sports event comes with the right to lob racist taunts at the players or to verbally abuse them, you might want to reexamine your values.
You might also want to stay home. Because you’re about to be in for a rude awakening at your next live NBA game.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith