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Fans, Free Expression, and the Wide World of Sports

59 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2006  

Howard M. Wasserman

Florida International University (FIU) - College of Law


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. Short of the rare instances when it falls into unprotected categories such as incitement or threats, all manner of cheering - profanity, heckling, waving flags and banners, rooting for the wrong team, and other political messages and statements - 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 sport, stadiums, and 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. First, it argues that the grandstand is a public forum. Second, it argues that professional sports teams and public universities are state actors, the latter for obvious reasons and the former as a result of the pervasive public financing of sports arenas. Third, it examines different forms of cheering speech, using examples from incidents at recent college and professional games, and explains why such speech is constitutionally protected.

Keywords: Constitutional law, freedom of speech, First Amendment, sports, public financing

Suggested Citation

Wasserman, Howard M., Fans, Free Expression, and the Wide World of Sports. University of Pittsburgh Law Review, Vol. 67, p. 525, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Howard M. Wasserman (Contact Author)

Florida International University (FIU) - College of Law ( email )

University Park, DB 2065
Miami, FL 33199
United States
305-348-7482 (Phone)

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