Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Five Freedoms on the Field

By Shawn Healy
An ongoing battle between the Illinois Press Association (IPA) and the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) is shaping up to be a victory for the former. At issue is the right for media organizations to document high school sporting events through photography, and to disseminate these pictures to the general public through newspapers, web sites, even offering them to proud parents free of charge or for a nominal fee. The IHSA signed an exclusive contract with Visual Image Photography, Inc., providing them with a picture-taking monopoly on state high school championship events. This sweet deal goes so far as to snatch the digital camera from the hands of mom and pop!

The State Senate voted last week to deny this proposed course of action, and a similar bill is pending in the House. Assuming Gov. Blagojevich continues his commitment to the First Amendment (he signed legislation protecting college press rights and vetoed the mandatory moment of silence bill), freedom of the press may be vindicated in Springfield.

This controversy sheds light on the frequent intersection between the First Amendment and sports in recent years. I've already written about the BALCO boys and their stand for source anonymity surrounding the federal case against Barry Bonds, et al., not to mention the Tennessee case where a high school football coach charged that his freedom of association was violated when the state high school athletic governing entity punished him and his team for advance recruiting of players.

Two years ago, Major League Baseball (MLB) began challenging the use of its players and statistics by fantasy baseball leagues under the guide of copyright infringement, striking fear in many newsrooms that box scores will be permanently banned from sports pages. Last year, the NCAA ejected a blogger from coverage of the College World Series, arguing that his play-by-play analysis undermined exclusive broadcast rights awarded for a lucrative fee. MLB has issued similar threats in recent weeks.

Let's be honest here: these recent developments are mostly about making money. Media organizations can grasp for First Amendment cover, and sports entities seek similar refuge under the copyright provisions extended by the Constitution. The question is what is best for the public. All of the aforementioned athletic entities have long tolerated, if not solicited press coverage, and the two established a mutually beneficial partnership. The former benefited from what was essentially free publicity, while the latter used the nation's fascination with all things sport to sell papers and drive ratings.

What is different now is the emergence of the Internet as an alternative means of documenting athletic competition. Photos no longer rest only on film, nor are statistics strictly the province of the sports page. Games may be broadcast over the Internet, and play-by-play analysis need not be strictly done by radio announcers. Loss of control equates with competition for the almighty dollar, lest we forget that sports are a a lucrative locale. In general, the public wins when competition is the rule, and loses when monopolies are granted and protected.

This is more than a mere sideshow. The fights in defense of civil liberties are often fought on the fringes of society. In these cases, our pastimes call for renewed vigilance. This sports nut sides with greater competition and respect for the First Amendment. Thankfully the Illinois State Senate agrees, and it's time for the IHSA, MLB, and the NCAA to follow suit.


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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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