How Public Outrage Killed Free Speech
As I was driving around town this morning, two important news stories came across the radio (yes, I still listen to old fashioned commercial radio when driving). I had already been working on a blog this week centered around my love affair with the comma, but immediately knew that I would have to put off this topic for another time (mark your calendars, nerds- I’ll publish that one next Friday). Still, I had to decide between writing about Curt Schilling’s firing by ESPN for comments he made regarding the transgender bathroom law in North Carolina and the death of Prince. While the rain that falls today will be a darker shade of purple due to the loss of an artist that redefined pop music by creating a seminal moment of the 1980’s, there are two distinct issues with Schilling’s firing I felt compelled to address. I think we’ll make this a two-parter….
The first aspect of this story that interests me pertains to whether or not Schilling should have been fired. The issue, some would contend, is that ESPN has undermined Schilling’s first amendment rights to freedom of expression. After all, regardless of how you feel about Schilling’s post, shouldn’t he be allowed to keep his job? My answer here might surprise you.
First, let me say (and this definitely might surprise you), it doesn’t matter whether I dislike or am offended by Schilling’s tweets comparing Muslims to Nazis or his Facebook reposting of a meme many transgender folks found highly demeaning. What matters somewhat more is that Schilling was repeatedly requested by ESPN to desist from engaging in political and cultural commentary while under their employ as a baseball analyst. Schilling has long been an outspoken conservative, and while it was always his right to use however he like the platform his baseball career afforded him during his playing days, once he went to work for ESPN, they likewise had an interest in maintaining their public image and fostering a positive relationship with a wide spectrum of their audience. It doesn’t matter what I think about Schilling’s comments because it really only matters what ESPN thinks of his comments. If they feel he poorly represents their company and negatively impacts their ratings, branding or profit, they have every right to fire him.
Schilling’s first amendment right to freedom of speech does not guarantee his employment. He’s not sitting in jail for what he said (though I must admit that the image of him being ogled overtly by a transgender prostitute he has had the misfortune of being locked up with definitely gives me a chuckle or two). The first amendment protects you from government prosecution for things you say, not from getting fired from your job. If the things you say negatively impact your performance and productivity (say, for example, you decide to tell a crucial client to “Go fuck yourself with a half-eaten banana!”), your employer has the right to protect their business interest by removing you from their payroll.
But all this begs us to revisit the original question: Should Curt Schilling be fired from ESPN for his comments? And this is where I may surprise you. Just because ESPN has the right to fire Schilling doesn’t mean they should. Now in fairness to them, ESPN is really just capitulating to public pressure calling for Schilling’s dismissal. They didn’t fire Schilling because they found what he said offensive; they fired him because they feared the backlash from their audience. They caved to the mob mentality of unquenched outrage.
Since when have we become so ass sore about every little thing public figures say? Sure, I found what Curt Schilling said offensive. I think he’s a narrow-minded jackass who should shut the hell up and keep his hateful thoughts to himself. But what do I care if he doesn’t? How have his comments hurt me if I just don’t let them? He’s one backwards ingrate spewing hate speech- do you really think he’s influencing the way anyone out there thinks about anything other than how to throw an unhittable cutter? Just because I don’t like what he says, should he really lose his job just because he said something that offends people?
In this new age we live in of continuous public outrage at every minor perceived slight, we are constantly calling for someone’s head on a platter simply because of something they’ve said. I have no problem calling out individuals like Schilling for their prejudices, exposing them for the bigoted assholes they really are and shaming them back into the little holes they crawled out from, but why are we so quick to call for their ouster? Why do I have to like your political comments on social media for you to keep your job telling me why the Colorado Rockies again have no chance of making the damn playoffs?
Because in the end, it is not the government that is attacking our freedom of speech; it is ourselves. In our ends-justify-the-means approach to ramming political correctness down everyone’s throat, we have taken away people’s right to say whatever they like- even if it is some racist ass shit. In our rush to end intolerance, we have effectively stripped ourselves of our government’s most enduring means for preserving our ability to disseminate those ideals. And that, my friends, is how freedom of speech is truly toppled.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com