Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


First and Ten Again on the Football Field

By Shawn Healy
The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in a case concerning the First Amendment rights of a football coach to send letters to potential players prior to their official enrollment at the high school for which he once worked. The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association sanctioned the school, Brentwood Academy, for illegal recruiting with a nominal fine and a two-year suspension from the state playoffs ( a true penalty for a ten-time state champion). In an earlier ruling the Court, with since-retired Justice O'Connor in the majority, deemed the TSSAA a state entity and thus beholden to the First Amendment. This airing will consider whether Coach Calton Flatt's First Amendment rights were violated.

As a former high school football coach I am particularly interested in the outcome of this case, First Amendment implications aside. While I admit that illegal recruiting undermines the spirit of interscholastic competition and occurs in both public and private schools, I think that this particular incident is particularly harmless. I served as head freshman football coach, and my boss, the varsity head coach, used to send out letters to all male newborns at the local hospital welcoming them to the football family. That Coach Flatt did the same to 12 eighth graders already committed to attending Brentwood Academy, merely inviting them to practice, seems like a senseless gripe.

Justice Alito's position on this case may prove pivotal given his replacement of O'Connor and her position as part of the 5-4 majority last time the case was decided in the High Court. Alito's pro-free speech record as a District Judge may predict another victory for the old football coach.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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