The Twitter Ban in Pro Sports: Is It Affecting First Amendment Rights?

The SportmeistersAnalyst IOctober 3, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 20: Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco #85 of the Cincinnati Bengals stretches in warm ups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 20, 2009 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

By Ryan of The Sportmeisters

OK, so first of all, I support free speech, obviously, but I know there are lines in what can and should be said in public.

This discussion isn’t about crossing that line. Instead, three of the major leagues (NBA, NFL, and NHL) have publicly declared certain time bans for when any member within those leagues can use Twitter. This includes all players, coaches, and personnel.

For those uninitiated to the social media world, Twitter is a social networking site where people can update anything and everything they choose, as long as it's within a 140-character limit.

In the NBA alone, over 1.4 million personnel are users, including players and other team personnel. It’s a positive way for athletes to give the fans a real inside look at the true life of a professional athlete.

However, recent events have forced some leagues, including the NBA, NFL, and NHL, to step in and make limits for Twittering. Some teams have gone above and beyond that.

The NBA does not allow Twittering 45 minutes before and after each game, including in game. Former Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva was the first known one to cross the Twitter line last season, most likely being the reason for the in-game ban. Some NBA teams have gone further than the league policy. Miami Heat members are not allowed to Tweet at any time while in the Heat complex.

The NFL recently adopted a league-wide Twitter policy, after many teams started their own policy. The NFL is a little more strict, putting the window at 90 minutes and also including “represented” coaches. Chad Ochocinco, wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, once said he would tweet after scoring a touchdown. Since these rules have been enacted, though, he has kept quiet.

The NHL’s policy is a little more lenient, giving access to up to 30 minutes. MLB has no formal Twitter policy, but generally all communication devices are prohibited 30 minutes prior to a game beginning.

While the leagues have these general policies, and some teams have stricter policies, the question remains: By blocking Twitter, are the athletes' First Amendment rights at risk?

The First Amendment guarantees members of the United States free speech, including freedom of the press, which, with Twitter being a media vehicle, falls under both sections. Restrictions can be placed, as long as other alternative methods are available. The only alternative method is the television and radio, neither which give the full access a Twitter account can give.

All of the professional sports ban Twitter, but not during their personal time; however, all the leagues allow teams to get stricter in their rules if they so choose.

One NCAA team has already approached that. Texas Tech has banned all team members from using Twitter at any time. This is a blatant prevention of free speech. The ban came after a team member criticized the coach.

Granted, it’s not proper or approved behavior, but it is the players right to speak his mind as such. Nothing he said was harmful, hurtful, released secrets, or was discriminatory in any matter.

Now, I will agree that Twitter users should not discuss in-game adjustments, and that it can be a distraction, so keeping it out in-game is understandable. However, there is no reason an athlete can’t Tweet in the one or two minutes prior to the coach addressing the team, or even right after the game, prior to media obligations. It’s an opportunity for the athlete to truly connect with the fan.

One team of the many took the first step already, and how long until other teams follow suit? By turning off Twitter, we turn off a voice, and that is unconstitutional in nature.

In America, people have a right to give their opinion, and just because an athlete is a highly regarded media figure means, if they choose to have the account, they need to be aware and accountable for what they say. It does not mean they should lose the right to say it.


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