Free Expression and the Wide World of Sports
51 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2005
Date Written: August 17, 2005
This article explores in detail the free expression rights of fans at professional and collegiate sporting events, concluding that such cheering speech possesses, reflects, and expresses important social, cultural, political, and communal ideas and messages and thus is deserving of First Amendment protection. Short of the rare instances when it falls into unprotected categories such as incitement or threats, all manner of cheering - profanity, targeted heckling, waving flags and banners, rooting for the wrong team - is entitled to vigorous protection. This conclusion flows not only from prevailing free speech principles and jurisprudence, but also is informed by the economics, sociology, and psychology of sports, sports stadiums, and sports fandom. The article examines three distinct issues essential to the conclusion that fans at sporting events possess the full range of free-speech rights in their cheering: 1) the grandstand as a public forum; 2) professional sports teams and universities as state actors, the former as a result of public financing of stadiums; and 3) the specifics of different forms of cheering speech, using examples from incidents at recent college and professional games.
Keywords: First Amendment, free speech, sports, baseball, public forum, state action
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