Free Speech in Sports?

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A lot of people have forgotten about Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the NBA shooting guard out of LSU (when he was known as Chris Jackson), who was suspended by the league for not standing for the national anthem for religious reasons. He was out of the NBA entirely within a year, playing for more than a decade internationally.

He comes to mind both in the context of the NBA players tweeting pictures of themselves in honor of Trayvon Martin, something that the NBA seems to be allowing.  But now over in MLB, Ozzie Guillen has been suspended for 5 games for saying “I love Fidel Castro.” He immediately apologized, particularly in response to the uproar from the Cuban community in South Florida where he works.

But why is he being suspended? Because Castro is a dictator? Israel Gutierrez compares him to Hitler. Ok. My first reaction is to think he’s a bit more complicated than that, but he is a dictator, and a lot of South Floridans hate him and he’s done a lot of horrible shit, and I don’t want to get into a screaming match about levels of evil. (I mean, I won’t get into a screaming match about whether Tebow’s prayer invokes a history of greater violence than Guillen’s off-the-cuff remark…or whether any number of U.S. heroes is responsible for more deaths and destruction…or whether Guillen would have been suspended for supporting a hero of a southern state…but honestly, I’m open to thinking about this).

So, I’ll keep it to the question of free speech. Why’s he suspended for this? This wasn’t just a stupid thoughtless comment of Ozzie being Ozzie. He’s supported Hugo Chavez and Castro before. Both connote a political perspective–leftist and economically redistributive, potentially revolutionary, potentially liberationist, potentially nationalist.

And why couldn’t Abdul-Rauf refuse to stand for the national anthem? (Why is there a national anthem at the beginning of games anyway? I’m patriotic too, but there’s no national anthem at movies, gas stations, or flight takeoffs. Why do we need to remind ourselves of nationalism at athletic events?) Of all arenas, why are we demanding our athletes comply with political conventions? Our political conventions are stifling enough for the politicians–what’s wrong with letting our athletes speak their minds a bit, and particularly their political and religious convictions? Tebow can pray (and he’s hardly alone) but Abdul-Rauf can’t express his own religious views?

Back to matters more important, such as events that show that I’m right about just about everything. And just hours after my post pointing out the Celtics must be reckoned with, ESPN and other major internet outlets have followed suit, moving the C’s as high as 5 in some of the latest NBA power rankings. For me, the most critical thing now is getting the 3 seed in the east. It’s within reach, and if they get it, they likely play Miami in the second round as opposed to Chicago. Is that better? I like the matchups, and I like the X factor that is LeBron. The Bulls are going to wear them down over 7 games. The Heat? I feel like the Celtics can wear them down–and I’ll add that D-Wade may be wearing down already.

And finally–the beauty of writing a blog no one reads?  If Miami beats the C’s by 20 tonight, and if D-Rose’s injuries keep sounding more ominous, no one will notice that the above sentences are entirely re-written.

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