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.

Spending a Week in the “House of Mouse” Part Two: Taking the High Ground

EPCOT

While having been in the United States Marine Corps isn’t a prerequisite for taking on the challenge of Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL, it is an advisable course of action. Without the intricate planning and the physical training of military maneuvers, many will end up as one of the pretty landscaping efforts around the “House of Mouse.” If you remember Part One and have put its exercises into use, you’re off to a good start. If you can make it to the end of this training course, you’ll be able to take the high ground in any of the resorts’ (hereafter referred to as “WDW”) and make an enjoyable effort out of the battle.

Day Three

After a great breakfast to prime ourselves for the day, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was on the agenda for our family. Animal Kingdom is actually the newest of the four theme parks that make up the WDW entourage, opened in 1998, and is the second largest theme park in the world behind only Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ. What sets apart this particular theme park – according to what is told to the visitors – is that the main reason for this park is to promote animal conservation.

This is where I have a bit of a problem with Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I am not one of those “animal rights” activists that foam at the mouth if someone ruins the habitat of the Galapagos Island tree frog (hell, if there is such an animal, let me know). I also, however, am not for their abuse in circuses, zoos, rodeos or water parks, either; just try to tell me about how much a polar bear likes walking around on concrete in the middle of a Southern summer. My son, however, is quite interested in animals and, as he has not yet had the opportunity to form an opinion on this subject, I have decided to allow for his youthful curiosity with the creatures that join human beings on this planet.

From the appearances of the park, there is a premium placed on the animals and their well-being, maintaining as natural a habitat as possible for them and allowing them the freedom of movement that would come in their surroundings (the “Tree of Life” that dominates the center of the park is something to see). That was somewhat reassuring and, once we went on the special “Kilimanjaro Safari” that is one of the major attractions of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we could see that the animals seemed to think that they were in their natural habitats. You could literally almost touch the animals as you drove past – they are free range in that they can go wherever they wanted to go – but you were discouraged from doing so. Of particular fun was one giraffe who thought it would be a hoot to block the road; our driver waited – and the drivers of another half dozen or so safari trucks behind us waited – until the giraffe had been adequately amused and moved off the road.

It was when we traveled between the different animal compounds on the safari trail that you could see some issues, however. I was quick to notice that the entrances/exits from one compound to another had electronic gratings on the ground across the roads and there were the traditional fencing in the woods or brush that you would see in a normal zoo. Were these in place to discourage the animals from mingling among each other as they would naturally do in the wild? I would have liked to have asked someone on the safari (especially about the grates on the ground) but not wanting to look like a killjoy to a couple of dozen people, I decided to keep my trap shut for a change.

Other than the zoo atmosphere that permeated my mindset, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was quite lovely. Lush trees and bamboo stalks provided shade for a particularly hot day in October and there were plenty of areas to take a load off and rest. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do much else outside of the Kilimanjaro Safari (the family took a ride on the Kali River Rapids, which sounds just like its name indicates and was quite enjoyable) as our son was getting tired, but that proved to be a good thing as it was the one day we had some afternoon rain that would have put a damper on things (this is also something to remember about Florida…at any moment, despite what the weather forecast was the night before, “pop-up” showers or thunderstorms can and often do occur throughout the day).

Overall, if you’re visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom, there is plenty to see there that would take a good day to get through, if not more. It also is quite beautiful, if you can get by the fact that it is still a zoo.

Day Four

By this point in the trip, we were getting to be old hats at the “wake up early, get a good breakfast” routine. We also were struck with one of the maladies that pops up when you are on a vacation – illness. Perhaps because he wanted to touch everything that was around him – as children are wont to do – our son started to come down with the “sniffles.” It seemed like nothing – just a little bit of a runny nose – that turned into a full blown cold within about twelve hours of the first appearance of the “snots.” This would have an impact on the remainder of the trip and may have been the cause of one of the stranger cases of the trip.

After breakfast, the plan was to attack Disney’s Hollywood Studios and its myriad of attractions. Opened in 1989, it was originally known as Disney-MGM Studios but, after years of infighting between Disney and MGM Studios over its operational aspects (MGM objected to a full studio and film lab being on the property, Disney objected to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas opening a theme park of their own on The Strip), the name was changed to Hollywood Studios and more of an emphasis on the “early days” of the movie and entertainment industries were emphasized.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios are probably the most difficult of the four theme parks to get around simply because there is so much built in and upon itself. There are six different “performance areas,” including Hollywood Boulevard, Pixar Place and Streets of America, that morph into each other so seamlessly that you can easily get lost. This is problematic if you are trying to find your way out of the park and you are on one of the more “remote” areas of Hollywood Studios (this is something that isn’t going to get easier, either; a Star Wars themed area and something called Toy Story Land are supposed to be constructed on the grounds with an unspecified completion date).

In a change from the previous two parks we had visited, virtually all of the amusement rides at Disney’s Hollywood Studios were indoor affairs instead of outside. This became a problem for our son, surprisingly, as he hadn’t ever shown any problem with being “in the dark” or being scared of, well, anything (he had recently ridden a “spooky” funhouse ride at a county fair with another little friend; the little friend came out of the ride crying uncontrollably while our son was cool, calm and collected). Even something as simple as “The Great Movie Ride,” which captured the iconic history of movies on an indoor ride with sets, live actors and movie clips, caused him to become almost uncontrollable because of the darkness at some moments of the ride.

With this situation presenting itself, we decided to cut the trip short to Hollywood Studios. While it was something that looked interesting (especially the Tower of Terror that we were supposed to ride), it wasn’t worth permanently scarring a young lad on his first major theme park adventure. From what we did do, however, it more than has enough entertainment to cover a day’s activities.

Day Five

Coming into the final full day of action was at once a thrill (as we were heading to an area that I had wanted to see) and a bit sad (leaving the next day). After some medication, our son was a bit better (but still not interested in even taking a look at any ride that was even inside), so we headed off to EPCOT.

If you recall from Part One of our story, EPCOT was what Walt Disney originally envisioned the Florida property would become…an experimental community where innovation and technological feats were to be tested out. Following Disney’s death in 1966, that was scrapped and the Magic Kingdom was instead built in 1971. EPCOT, after it was built and opened in 1982, became more of an amusement park – Disney officials thought of it as more of a “permanent World’s Fair” – but still had some elements of technological wonder and scientific appeal. It is now the third most visited theme park in the United States and sixth most visited in the world.

Unlike Disney’s Hollywood Studio’s, EPCOT was very neatly laid out and has a wide array of attractions that would capture pretty much anyone’s attention. If you’re interested in space, there were attractions for that (Spaceship:  Earth and Mission:  Space). Technology was covered in the Innovations arenas on each side of the park (East and West) and, if you’re wondering what Disney did with the late Michael Jackson’s 3D film Captain EO, it can be found on the EPCOT property.

Unfortunately, our son’s sudden apprehension at indoor rides nearly kept us from what would be one of the better rides of the trip. After we took him home for a nap, my lovely wife and I returned to EPCOT to take on Soarin’, a ride that took you through the skies like a bird as you flew over California (with actor Patrick Warburton appearing as your head flight attendant). Staring at a concave screen as you dangled in a seat watching the terrain race by underneath you, you almost felt as if you could fly; I commented to my wife afterwards that, while flying over ocean surf, about the only thing that would make it better was if there had been a way to have a “sea spray” hit you in the face. It also almost felt as if my toes were touching the treetops as we whizzed past.

While the ride was a great one, I’ve recently learned that it will be replaced soon. Instead of the version that was shown while I was there at EPCOT, a new version called Soarin’ Around the World will take over the screens come 2016. This, as you might expect, will do just what Soarin’ did but amp it up to a world stage instead of just California. When that comes around, that will be worth seeing as even the abbreviated trip was a blast.

With that, our trip through the theme parks was complete. We haven’t finished our review of WDW yet, however. In PART THREE, I’ll offer some tips that you might overlook in planning a trip to WDW and ask a few questions, including one that might anger some people.