Free speech, big and small

Bill Ordine's Rant

August 02, 2008|By BILL ORDINE

Sports journalism doesn't normally get tangled up in First Amendment issues. But a pair of sports-related situations that have come up recently pose interesting parallels. The first is in China (where, admittedly, the concept of the First Amendment is pretty alien), but the second is in Phoenix, where they should have heard of it.

*In China, at the Beijing Olympics, reporters are being barred from some Internet access, particularly Web sites that the government believes to be critical of its policies, such as discussion of the unrest in Tibet. The overarching philosophy is: "It's my country, and I'll lie if I want to." And to the argument that reporters should have no beef because they should follow the rules of the host country, I'll point out that Beijing had to "win" the right to host the Olympics. And being in a competitive situation with other world-class cities, China had to be persuasive in convincing the International Olympic Committee to allow the Games to be held there. Reportedly, the IOC tried to make sure certain fundamental principles of Internet access were part of the overall atmosphere of the Olympic Games, but there seem to be differing interpretations of what was agreed to.

*Now concurrently, we have what is certainly a much pettier discouraging of free speech in Phoenix. Apparently, there's a swanky golf country club out there, the Phoenix Country Club, and incredibly, still in the 21st century, it has a policy that bars women from the club's grill room. It might seem like small potatoes, but it's also a known haunt for the city's power lunches, so this is another way of keeping in place a gender glass ceiling. But equally galling is that when a member spoke to a newspaper criticizing the policy, he was kicked out of the club.

So here's the point: If you're proud of what you're doing, you usually don't have any problem with people discussing it. And usually, when you have reason to be ashamed, that's when you want to keep it quiet. On grand and petty scales, that's the lesson to take away from Beijing and the country club.

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