Five Freedoms on the Field
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.