First Amendment & Fools on Twitter

Curt Schilling“Curt’s tweet was completely unacceptable, and in no way represents our company’s perspective,” ESPN said in a statement.

In his classes and talks on ethics to those in both the sports world and corporate world, Chuck Gallagher, president of Sports Ethics LLC, routinely includes discussions on the social media.

There are millions of ways to ruin a career especially in sports where the window is so narrow. One of the easiest things to do is to say something really dumb on the social media. Among athletes, Twitter is the fool’s social media poison of choice.

Last week, Curt Schilling was suspended for posting a meme (sort of like a poster to which someone adds a personal statement). The tweet compared the percentage of Muslims who are extremists to the general Muslim population in relationship to the percentage of Germans who were devout Nazis at the start of WWII.

After the post, ESPN removed Schilling from his assignment as a color commentator for the LLWS. Where his career in broadcasting will go from here is anyone’s guess. For now, he is sitting on the sidelines. In an apology posted on Facebook, he said the following:

“Free speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences as I was so adamant on earlier this year…I made a mistake on a few levels. And my boss didn’t like it. No one to blame but myself. Time to move on.”

The First Amendment and You

Yes, we can all stand on our platforms and say just about anything we want to say, providing we are not yelling “Fire!” in a movie theater. However, anyone who believes they can say or do anything they please on the social media and not get a reaction for their point of view is living in a dream world.

Curt Schilling is a public figure who is an unabashed patriot. There’s nothing wrong with either. Curt Schilling was a giant of a baseball player and people want to really hear what he has to say in regard to baseball. When he starts comparing Muslims to Nazis, he crosses a line that should not be crossed.

Schilling (or someone in his employ) has worked very hard to accumulate 134,000 followers on Twitter. Then, of course, there are re-tweets and other social media postings. Among those followers are the many sports media outlets, including his employer.

He is entitled to say what he wants (if that’s what he wants) as a private citizen, but when he goes public with it, he had better be prepared for the consequences. In this case, if he does not care what others think, if he so wealthy it doesn’t matter, if his reputation as a broadcaster is irrelevant to him, he can stand on his First Amendment rights.

I am well aware of the articles declaring Schilling a victim of political correctness. So what? His employer has expected codes of conduct and guidelines (as does yours). We are in a politically-charged world. We are also in a rapidly changing world. Hopefully, we are also in a more accepting world. To divorce a divisive comment from the person saying it is impossible. To not expect a blow-back from an employer is ridiculous.

Not about Curt Schilling

As inane as a public sports broadcast figure posting a negative comment – then thinking there would be no negative consequences, are other comments I read last week saying this happened because of Schilling’s “Old School” misunderstanding of social media.

Time and time again, and especially on Twitter, athletes, coaches, administrators, sports executives and others involved in sports have made really dumb social media mistakes. Sometimes they are alcohol-fueled, sometimes they are anger or jealousy-fueled but what they aren’t, are “Age-Specific.” Social media choices have resulted in losses of reputation across the board regardless of age.

It is understandable that spotlights would be turned on Curt Schilling in this case, but there are so many examples of the misuse of social media by athletes and former athletes that to single out one (ex-) player completely misses the point.

The conundrum, as they say, is this: if we use the social media, one of the things many of us want are huge numbers of followers, friends, connections, etc. The more, the merrier! On the other hand, people often tweet, post and comment as though they are only talking to one person, or just those people who think like they think. There are, of course, no such filters like that. It is entirely possible that some of Curt Schilling’s followers are baseball fans who are also Muslim just as some players have been punished for tweeting stupid things about their coaches. Expect consequences.

Nothing is private any more. Don’t even think it. If you are dumb enough to broadcast a dumb opinion, do not be shocked by its consequences. In fact, expect it will happen. To think otherwise, is foolish.





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