Freedom of Speech Only Goes So Far…

CurtSchilling

Earlier this week, former Boston Red Sox pitcher and ESPN baseball commentator Curt Schilling offered up on his Facebook account an anti-transgender meme that has been making its rounds on the internet. In this particular meme (I’ll refrain from putting it on here because…UGH!), a rather unattractive man is wearing female clothing with the quotation beside him, “LET HIM IN! To the restroom with your daughter or else you’re a narrow minded, judgmental, unloving, racist bigot who needs to die!!!” Schilling shared the meme and, after a moment’s thought, deleted it, but not until after some people had screen-captured what he’d done.

To take it a step further, Schilling then stepped to his personal blog and tossed more gasoline on the raging fire. To give him credit, Schilling didn’t shy away from his personal beliefs (“There are things I have deeply held beliefs in, things that are core to who I am, things I am passionate about…whether you like that…or not is completely up to you.”), but he also had to know what was coming (more on this in a moment). That “other shoe” that Schilling might have been expecting came on Wednesday night when his employer, ESPN, terminated his contract, stating simply “ESPN is an inclusive company. Curt Schilling has been advised that his conduct was unacceptable and his employment with ESPN has been terminated.”

This wasn’t the first time that Schilling had stepped down this path. He was suspended after first Tweeting a meme that compared Muslims to the 1930s Nazis and, once ESPN kicked him off the broadcasts of the Little League World Series, followed up with a defensive post to another blogger that cost him the remainder of the Major League Baseball season (despite the factor that the post also defended the person who replaced him, former U. S. Olympic softball star Jessica Mendoza, against comments the blogger made). And this doesn’t count what other memes that Schilling shared over his Facebook feed.

Opinion over what Schilling has shared over his social media – this week and previously – takes an interesting course, one that requires some thought before making a statement. Plenty of people believe that Schilling was simply “saying what a lot of us are thinking. Apparently you can’t have an opinion at ESPN if that opinion isn’t a liberal opinion.” Others believe that Schilling will be quite happy on the unemployment line (probably not; Schilling’s video game company, 38 Studios, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012 and Schilling has sold off personal memorabilia to cover his expenses), saying, “Who would want to work for a company that would punish you for telling the truth?”

There are those that take the other side. “Schilling’s freedom to say what he wants hasn’t been denied; the government has not punished Schilling for what he said,” one person stated. “ESPN, however, has the right terminate his employment.”

That is the key point that many are missing with this situation. Schilling has all the “freedom of speech” rights in the world. The government cannot come after him and tell him “you can’t say that, Mr. Schilling, otherwise we will have to put you in jail.” It is one of the tenets of the First Amendment that allows everyone the right to speak out about…well, whatever they feel are the injustices of the world.

FlagBurning

What many seem to forget, however, is that with the freedom of speech also comes the consequences of that freedom. For example, it is allowable to be able to burn the U. S. flag in protest (and to dispose of it, but that’s another story), encoded by the U. S. Supreme Court decision Texas v. Johnson (1989). While you can go ahead and burn the flag, you also have to accept the consequences of what might happen if you do that; in some cases, there may be a major league ass-kicking that comes along with it…not condoning physical violence, but it is a potential consequence. In Schilling’s case, he perfectly has the right to freedom of speech, what he forgot was the consequences part.

ESPN is a part of the massive Disney empire, which is the target of boycotts by one organization or another probably several times a day, 365 days per year. They try to minimize those issues by offending as few people as possible with the multitude of entertainment options that they provide (this is probably why they chuck the Disney girls who come up through their shows out before they go wild…look at the recent arrests of Debby Ryan and Kelli Berglund and let’s not even get into Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears). Thus, when someone continually chafes their audiences through poking the proverbial bear with their social media actions (as Schilling has done here and in the past), there comes a point when ESPN can decide enough is enough and remove the problem by dismissing the person.

DebbyRyan

It isn’t the first time that ESPN has done something along these lines. After a profanity-laced tirade at a roast for Mike and Mike hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic in which she went off on Golic’s alma mater Notre Dame by saying “Fuck Notre Dame, fuck Touchdown Jesus…and fuck Jesus,” former ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson was suspended for a week from the ESPN airwaves after irritating the Catholic League. Commentator Stephen A. Smith was suspended for his comments on domestic violence and SportsNation host Max Kellerman earned a suspension for his comments on the same matter. These barely even broach the suspensions and/or firings that have been handed out by ESPN in its history for “freedom of speech” violations.

Freedom of speech is a guaranteed right under the U. S. Constitution, but it is only guaranteed when you are speaking about the government. You can criticize the President, Congress, our military actions (or lack thereof), our political directions and decisions or an array of other things and there isn’t a thing that the government can do about it. They cannot come to the street corner where you might be ranting about these things, they cannot censor what you write on the subject and they certainly cannot arrest you for what you’ve said (within reason, of course…advocating for armed treason is one of those areas that they might have actionable cause).

When it comes into the private arena, however, the game completely changes. A company can (and does) look into your personal background, your social media (some companies nowadays ask for your social media names, at the minimum; state and federal legislatures are trying to prevent this) and monitor for where their employees might discuss the company. If this is a surprise to you, I’ve got a story that will emphasize the point for you from more than 15 years ago.

While working in the public sector, I worked with a gentleman who went into an online chatroom and discussed the company we worked for at great length. Needless to say, he wasn’t exactly glowing in what he said about our company as he detailed out what he felt were problems that the organization had. Although he thought he had an online ‘handle’ (screenname) that would prevent him from being identified (they could trace ISP addresses, even back then), the company found out who it was and terminated him immediately, despite his protests of “freedom of speech” (this is an old refrain).

Fired

How many of us would be willing to lay our social media accounts in front of our employer and let them have a look at what we think and say? How many of us would be able to pass the scrutiny of such an examination that our employer wouldn’t have to dismiss us out of protection of their organization? I’ll be the first to say I’m probably not perfect as to some of what I’ve written on social media; I wonder how many people who read this can be that honest.

So it isn’t the factor that Schilling’s freedom of speech is being violated. It is a factor that Schilling didn’t consider the consequences of what his freedom of speech might bring onto the company he represents. For those who contend that a “liberal company” is “silencing” a “conservative” thought, it isn’t that at all; it is a business looking to protect its bottom line by eliminating a loose cannon that could cost it money, plain and simple.

2015 Postseason Baseball Preview: NL Central Will Provide the World Series Champion…

Even though most everyone has gotten themselves wrapped up in college and professional football (and there’s something going on called the WNBA playoffs, but I haven’t seen signs of life for that yet, as well as preseason action in the National Hockey League), Major League Baseball’s regular season is coming to a close this week. What began back at the beginning of April will, over the next week, determine their six division champions and four Wild Card teams that will make up their postseason schedule. It will all wrap up in ANOTHER month with the conclusion of the World Series…in November, if the Series goes seven games.

I’ve heard all the arguments about the game of baseball…”How can you like something that goes so SLLLOOOWWW?” “They’re all on ‘roids!” “I’d rather watch paint dry than watch a baseball game.” The folks that haven’t realized the comforting blanket that the game of baseball is are missing out on one of the rare treats we still have in the world today. I could attempt to explain it, but it sounds so much better when it comes from the mouth of James Earl Jones, who could probably read a grocery list and make it sound like grand prose:

Just to further emphasize the point, the final paragraph from Jones’ Terrence Mann (his character in Field of Dreams) drives the ideas home. “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

I’d add in there that baseball is perhaps more embedded in our country’s (and our citizens’) DNA than many think. There is no clock, indicating that the game (and the country) could potentially last forever. The boundaries are strictly drawn, but through creativity and athleticism you can reach beyond those boundaries for greatness. Finally, anyone can play the game and excel if they are willing to work hard at improving.

OK, getting a bit sappy here. Let’s just move on…

With the postseason getting ready to begin, who has the best shot at winning the World Series? There are 10 teams that will contest for baseball’s World Championship and 30% of those teams come from one division. That’s where you’re going to see the next World Series champion come from. (And this comes from a person who is a die-hard Yankees fan, in full disclosure.)

American League

As of right now, there are only two teams – the AL Central champion (and defending American League Champion) Kansas City Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays – that have been able to lock down playoff spots. These two teams are also tied for the best record in the AL, which means they’ll spend the next week fighting it out over home-field advantage. Either one would make for a difficult opponent in a seven game series, but I am going to give the edge to Toronto due to the fact they are still trying to win the East Division over the New York Yankees while Kansas City relaxes with the division title firmly in their pocket.

In the AL West, the Texas Rangers and the surprising Houston Astros are battling down to the wire for the division title. Houston, whom many thought was still a year away from making moves in the AL, has been atop or in second place in the West throughout the entire season. I don’t see them making up the 2½ games that the Rangers lead by, however, but I do see the Astros making the Wild Card playoff game against the Yankees. In that one-game playoff in Yankee Stadium, the Yankees will prevail and get on a plane to play the Royals in Kansas City the next day.

Toronto is going to be tough to stop in the postseason. They made a flurry of moves around the trading deadline, bringing in SS Troy Tulowitzki and P David Price to shore up their defense and pitching. They should be able to get by the Rangers and head on to face…the Yankees, who I believe will get out of the Wild Card game and stun the Royals. In the end, however, I see the Blue Jays earning the AL pennant on the back of some dominant pitching and head to the World Series for the first time since 1993.

National League

The real story of the National League has been the performance of the NL Central. Long the doormat of the league (the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 barely were a .500 team (83-78) before winning the World Series), the NL Central is guaranteed to send three competitors to the postseason. The Cardinals are vying with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the division title, with the team that fails to take it down earning the right to host the Wild Card elimination game against the Chicago Cubs (yes, get your provisions in order for the coming Apocalypse if the Cubs go to the World Series). I’m going to take the Cardinals in this battle and, in a surprise, the Cubs will shock the Pirates to set up a Cards/Cubs playoff series for the first time since 1886.

The New York Mets have been the surprise team – and the darlings – of baseball fans over the course of the season. Rising up with young pitching leading the way, the Mets were able to vanquish the pre-season favorite Washington Nationals to win the division. I don’t think they’ll get any farther than that, however, as they will face the Los Angeles Dodgers and their buzz saw pitching twosome of Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke.

The Dodgers will head to Busch Stadium after the Cardinals dispatch of a pesky Cubs squad that takes them to the brink of elimination. In what will be probably the defining series of the 2015 postseason, the Cardinals will emerge as the champions of the National League for the third time in the past five years (in 2011 they won the World Series, in 2013 they lost to the Boston Red Sox).

2015 World Series

Honed by the season-long battle in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals should beat the Toronto Blue Jays in six games. If Toronto is able to push the Series to a seventh game, they would have the home field advantage at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, at which point all bets are off the table as anyone can take a Game 7.

You may not be watching when baseball drives towards its World Champion, but the drama is always worth a look. If you’ve never given baseball a chance – or if you’re someone who has drifted away from the game – the postseason is always a stage where its greatest moments occur.

Should I REALLY Send That Tweet?

If you haven’t kept up with the news of late (and admittedly it isn’t Earth-shattering news), ESPN baseball analyst and former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling is currently under suspension from “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” over some things that he posted over his personal Twitter account. In one meme (and really, can we cut the usage of memes? If you can’t say it yourself, don’t use a supposedly funny picture to do it) Schilling compared radical Islamic terrorists to the Nazi Party of Germany in the 1930s; in another, he details what each component of the Confederate Battle Flag represents, apparently as a method of making it palatable for others. For posting those things, Schilling was removed from his seat covering the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA, and it is possible that he may lose his job over the situation.

Schilling isn’t alone in being caught in this situation. Three years ago, Olympic athlete Lolo Jones unknowingly responded “want to race me” in a Tweet to former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand. The problem? LeGrand was paralyzed in 2010 in an on-field incident (she also backhanded him by implying he had a concussion, something that is plaguing organized football even today). In January, Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal used her Twitter account to imply that she would use her influence as a politician to thwart “white privilege.” Then there is the entertaining, infuriating buffoon known as Donald Trump who, in his pursuit (?) of being the next President of the United States, seems to at least once an hour issue a social media missive that probably should have been reconsidered. And we’re barely scratching the surface, folks…there’s a litany of things like this.

It seems as though athletes and celebrities fall into this pit way too often. In an attempt to either look intelligent, hip or funny, the people that are famous (or infamous) for what they do post items on social media that get them into hot water with most importantly their employers but also their sponsors, charitable organizations and even advocacy groups they work to support. It leaves many wondering what these people are thinking of when they get on their particular social media of choice.

Social media has definitely changed the way that the world interacts. As little as 20 years ago, it was difficult to instantly contact someone on the other side of the globe in real time. Even ten years ago, such things as Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn were in their infancy (Twitter wasn’t created until 2006, believe it or not) while MySpace was dominating the world. At that time, we hadn’t even heard of such things as Instagram, Tumblr and Foursquare. All of these social media outlets, however, have had their time in the spotlight due to somebody doing something stupid while on the computer.

There are definitely some rules that a person should implement before they decide if they should go ahead with a post, Tweet or Instagram picture. If celebrities, politicians and other important people used these – and the Everyday Joe should consider it also – then we could avoid the embarrassment that sometimes appears each time a brainless dolt who has millions of admirers does something they shouldn’t have done on the internet.

1. Does This Picture (Meme)…? – There are many considerations that come into play when it comes to pictures (and memes used by people) posted on Facebook, Instagram and even Snapchat (while the photos and videos delete, they can be captured for the short period they are online and they are a permanent part of the Snapchat servers) and they all begin with some form of “Does this picture…” Let’s list off a couple here:

A) Does this picture present me in a bad light? Perhaps the photo of you doing a keg stand at that college football tailgate party isn’t the best one you want to use as your Facebook account profile picture. Employers have started searching the Facebook and Twitter rolls when people apply for jobs and, especially in the case of those just leaving college or even already in the workforce but looking for new employment, the photos and memes you present on social media is going to be something that reflects on you (unless your name is John Smith, then you might be able to get a flyer).

B) Is this a picture of some illegal or illicit activity? Just ask former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner about how a picture he thought he was sending to someone privately exploded in his face. When you are committing an illicit act (or even an illegal one), it is probably not a good idea to trumpet it over the internet. Even though Weiner’s activity was a private one, even a private activity or conversation can come back to bite you in the ass.

2. Would I Say This (Post This Picture) In Public? – This is a huge one that many overlook when they get on social media. Just because you have some semblance of anonymity on the internet (hey, people don’t know you, you’re just a pixelated page in front of them and, in some cases, you can use an alias!), it is not a license to say whatever you think without regard for common decency. Many may decry this as being “too-PC” but in reality it comes from something that we used to have to deal with on a daily basis, being a halfway decent person.

My rules regarding this part are twofold:

A) Would I say what I am about to say to my mother? Hey, Mom is always a good idea to fall back on when it comes to considering whether something you’re about to do or say should be broadcast. In some cases, Mom’s always been proud of what I’ve done, but there’s been those times when Mom washed my mouth out with soap for the things I said (literally). Although I like to think my Mom is pretty hip, she’s still older and there is a modicum of decorum that has to be upheld.

B) Would I say what I am about to say in a bar? Stick with me on this one. If I am sitting in a bar having some drinks, there are usually several conversations between its patrons. If something that I am going to say is going to push one of those patrons to punch me in the mouth for saying it, I probably shouldn’t be broadcasting it over the internet. While some people find enjoyment in “stirring the shit,” if you do it too often, you’re going to catch that fist in the jaw.

3. Am I Doing This Too Soon? – Sometimes people look to be first with a post (or a picture, even) rather than thinking about just what they are doing or saying. For myself, I’ve learned in some circumstances to use the “24-Hour Rule” when it comes to posting. The “24-Hour Rule” is simple enough:  if I still feel the same way about a situation 24 hours later, then I’ll go ahead with a post or comment regarding an issue. Likewise, if I feel that the photo I’ve taken while I MIGHT be doing something questionable is a good one, then I’ll go about putting it on the internet. Through using the “24-Hour Rule,” there are many circumstances that could be avoided by celebrities and, well, everyone.

And finally perhaps the most important point…

4. Is What I Am Saying True? – This is more in tune with commenting regarding certain posts, putting up memes and situations such as that rather than pictures. There is already enough falsehood on the internet. Hell, there are sites that have sprung up, like Snopes.com or PolitiFact.com, that will let you know whether that anecdote or photograph is true or not. Use them! I personally don’t like when someone attempts to use a lie to get their point across as it completely discredits them in that arguments and future discussions.

Through usage of some or all of these thoughts, everyone – not just celebrities, politicians and other notable figures – can avoid getting entangled in such situation on social media. While the internet is a great place for the exchange of ideas, it doesn’t mean that you have to hit “Send” or “Post” for everything that you do online. If everyone implemented these ideas, it would give the mainstream media less to talk about; perhaps we would then get some “real” news on the channels rather than celebrity gossip.

(Thinking)…Nah, that’ll never happen!

What Does hitchBOT’s Destruction Say about the U. S.?

hitchBOT

It was a story that I had heard about a couple of years ago and thought was pretty cool. Researchers in Canada were building a robot that was incapable of movement but, through usage of linguistic programming and some limited conversation skills, would be able to traverse long distances. How, you might ask? Through the kindness of the human race, which would transport the robot around for nothing. A GPS system would keep track of where it was and, at 20-minute intervals, would snap a photo of its surroundings.

Christened hitchBOT, the robot – a gangly looking creation that still had some charm to it (as you can see in the photo above) – was able to get across the expanse of Canada in 2014, a 3700-mile trip that saw hitchBOT endear itself to the Canadian people. Earlier this year, hitchBOT got much the same reception as it crossed the Netherlands and Germany without as much as a scratch on its metallic frame and no damage to its sensitive computer systems.

So what would happen if hitchBOT attempted to cross the United States? The result is a saddening thought on the human – or perhaps the U. S. – condition as it aims straight at the heart and ignorance of people in the U. S.

Starting in Boston two weeks ago, hitchBOT had slowly been able to work his way down the Eastern Seaboard, taking in a Boston Red Sox game (probably should have headed to Yankee Stadium to see a real team play) and other “events.” The goodwill ended for hitchBOT on Saturday, however, as hitchBOT was found decapitated outside of Philadelphia, its useless arms and legs ripped from its body (the appendages were added to give hitchBOT a more “human” appearance) and the “head” nowhere to be found. From photos of the scene on Sunday, hitchBOT looked no different than the trash that fills the gutters of a major U. S. city.

“Sadly, sadly it’s come to an end,” Frauke Zeller, one of the robot’s co-creators, told the Associated Press after learning of hitchBOT’s demise. Zeller hasn’t committed to rebuilding hitchBOT and taking another shot at the U. S., but it seems that others working on the project are at least open to the idea. In a note on hitchBOT’s website, they say, “Sometimes bad things happen to good robots. We know that many of hitchBOT’s fans will be disappointed, but we want them to be assured that this great experiment is not over.”

The better experiment might be how shitty is the United States that some jackass/es gets their jollies out of the destruction of something they don’t own?

Sure, there are other countries where hitchBOT might not have had a really good time either. Some of the more criminally active areas of South America or Africa probably would have sent hitchBOT back in pieces also. The Middle East would have been difficult, too, but the place is a fucking war zone; humans have trouble getting out of there in one piece literally, mentally and emotionally. But this happened in the United States, where we are supposedly so civilized that we are the GREATEST NATION ON EARTH!!!

There is a brilliant video clip from the HBO show The Newsroom where Jeff Daniels, playing a television anchor, is on a discussion forum at a university. After a coed asks what makes the U. S. the greatest country on Earth, Daniels’ character Will McAvoy rips into her with a three-minute diatribe that says the only things that the U. S. is Number One in is number of persons incarcerated in prison, the number of people who believe angels exist and military spending (all correct, by the way). He then laments that we used to be a country that did good things and for the right reasons, to the utter silence of the auditorium.

(Would have liked to have embedded the video of this clip here, but HBO seems to have stretched their tentacles out and removed that capability. You can find it on YouTube, however.)

We used to be a country where people could depend on each other despite their differences. We used to be a country where you could potentially even work your way across the U. S., doing small jobs to earn some cash before heading onto the next town. Up until probably the 1970s, people freely traversed the continent and seldom met with any issues. Now, we can’t even exit our doorways without a feeling of dread, wary of those we see and willing to destroy anything we don’t understand.

How many of us actually know who our neighbors are? How many would see someone from the subdivision they live in needing some help getting back home from the grocery store and offer a ride? As a nation we’ve cocooned ourselves to the point that we refuse human interaction, settling for a virtual version across smartphones and computers instead of the real thing.

The destruction of hitchBOT is an extension of this malady. When faced with something that we might not understand, we choose not to engage it. Worse yet, someone with a brain the size of a walnut thought it would be better to destroy the robot rather than just let it be. That’s right, U. S. citizens…we let the equivalent of the “flour bag baby” with a microchip die and it didn’t even reach the 30-day mark of the experiment.

I certainly hope that the researchers in Canada make another run at hitchBOT. Maybe hitchBOT II will have some defense mechanisms that will keep it better protected. Then people in the U. S. can stupidly complain about Canada using “militaristic robots” to invade the country.