Sean Avery on Gay Marriage: Free Speech and the Business of Sports Collide

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Sean Avery on Gay Marriage: Free Speech and the Business of Sports Collide
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Sean Avery supports Marriage Equality

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." United States Constitution, Amendment 1.

The First Amendment to US Constitution is simple, yet conflicted in its statement. On one hand, is the right of any individual to say what they feel with the exception of something such as yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater. Then, on the other hand, is another individual's right to disagree wholeheartedly with what person A believes, and to express their belief.

I do not know Sean Avery as a person, nor do like I like 99 percent of the things he does on the ice. To be truthful, I am not aware of if he ever gained American citizenship.

Since he pays a lot of taxes via the New York Rangers, I will extend him the courtesy of our 1st Amendment. Mr. Avery did something that takes courage. Something which few athletes will do today...he took a stand on a controversial topic.

In a video shot for hrcbackstory.org, he made the statement "I'm Sean Avery and I'm a New Yorker for marriage equality. I treat everyone the way I expect to be treated and that applies to marriage. Committed couples should be able to marry the person they love. Join me in supporting marriage equality."

Person A expressed his opinion. No doubt there are countless people B's who disagree, which by Amendment is also their right.

Does an athlete have the right to voice personal opinions in the media?

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Many people in the public eye are either afraid, unwilling, or too smart to interject themselves in to such divisive issues. NBA legend Michael Jordan once was asked to lend any type of assistance for Democrat Harvey Gantt.

Gantt was running for Senate in North Carolina against Jesse Helms, who also was once identified as a segregationist. Jordan declined, stating that "Republicans buy sneakers too."

Avery is entitled to his opinion, but in the hyper-media era so is everyone else. Will his statements offend a segment of season ticket holders? What about big money sponsors? The New York Rangers ownership group Madison Square Garden, Inc. and chairman James Dolan may not have wanted this attention.

Disclaimer: I do not purport to know MSG, Inc. or Mr. Dolan's stance on any of the issues and humbly ask both to not sue me as I only mention them factually as the owners of the New York Rangers.

See? Even, my freedom of speech comes with some type of limit. I do not want to put words in to their mouths, as that could be an unfair representation.

That is one of the greatest fallacies that exists in the United States of America. Free speech is not free. When the business of sports is involved, the rights of individuals can greatly compromise the finances of the larger entity.

Sean Avery' statement for hrc.org

Just how that is balanced is tricky. Mr. Avery decided to make his opinion public. Other groups may chose to protest that in the form of possible financial loss to his employer or the NHL as a whole.

Does that give them the right to punish, suspend or release him? Perhaps there is not a true answer to that. Pittsburgh Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall found himself in a controversy regarding statements made on Twitter expressing his opinions about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Outrage from Steeler fans was near unanimous, with many hoping for his release or trade after the end of the lockout.

Just like Mr. Avery, Mr. Mendenhall made a choice to voice his opinion. Each individual has a Constitutional right to do so, yet each risks the wrath of their employer or others when they do so. You the reader and fan, also have a right to voice your opinion on the matters.

Hopefully, civility will always rule and each side in a debate can respect the other's right to their opinions.

It is very volatile when the worlds of sports and politics collide. Regardless of belief in or against a particular subject, as a supporter of the US Constitution, I suggest that we all abide by the quote of French jack-of-all-trades, Voltaire:

"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."

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