Confession: I’m a legal nerd. I love all topics legal, as long as they involve something juicy. Keep your patent law. Give me controversy. I blame it on Professor Washington, a journalism instructor at Temple, who is also an attorney and columnist. It was in his classroom where I became staunchly interested in First Amendment issues, specifically free speech and free press.Based on that, it comes as no surprise that I would jump all over recent reports that fans attending last Saturday’s game against the Cubs were forced (told?) to wear their “I Hate Joe Buck” tee-shirts inside out. The game, as we know, was broadcast on Fox. As tempting and easy as it may be, I’m not here to bash Joe Buck. Frankly, I couldn’t care less about that man’s existence.My first thought was "yup, kissing the ole corporate arse." Then my head started swirling around thoughts of free speech violations. Before I jump into any legal mumbo jumbo, let’s put this out on the table: Citizens Bank Park forced fans to wear their anti-Joe Buck shirts inside out because they didn’t want to bite the proverbial hand that was feeding them with a national audience. I think it is safe to say that the Phillies have a strong enough following -- they don’t need Fox. They don’t need Joe Buck.There are 162 games in a regular season. Fox broadcasts an average of 5-10 Phillies games during the regular season. That is less than 10%. If we play in the World Series, as we did in 2008 and 2009, we are forced to endure Fox coverage of an additional seven games. When you break down the numbers, we really aren’t forced to suffer through Fox’s drivel all that much.I took a gander at the tickets I have for upcoming games. There is nothing on there about dress code. I reviewed the Phillies web site. I found nothing about dress code, not even under “Guest Code of Conduct.” Honestly, it seems their biggest concern is being sued for bats and balls that “may leave the field.” (I could write a blog about the liability of permitting bats and balls to leave the field, but I promise to suppress the nerd in me from doing that).Each year, the city of Philadelphia hosts thousands of domestic and international tourists who flock here to see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Constitution Center. To some visitors, having free speech is a right they will experience only while a tourist in this country. And while I can distinguish the difference between the plight of those with no free speech and our fans not being permitted to wear anti-Joe Buck shirts, it begs the question when does it become too much? How far will the envelope be pushed?What if CBP banned the following:1. Muck the Fets shirts;2. Yankees jerseys;3. Anything regarding the immediate past or next Presidential Election;4. Drunk Phils Fans shirts.
Each of the above could be banned for a variety of reasons and I could make arguments for both sides. My point is: it's ridiculous to ban any of them for any reason -- just like it was ridiculous to quash the anti-Buck shirts. When free speech and expression is muffled to satisfy corporate greed (and their public persona), we begin a slippery slope toward becoming a nation that doesn't value the very things that make this a great place to be. Further, by quashing the anti-Buck shirts, CBP also trampled on elements that makes baseball fun -- competition and heckling to name a couple. Wearing an "I Hate Joe Buck" shirt is no different from chanting "you took steroids" at Andy Pettitte during the World Series in 2009.I think the next time a game I’m attending is changed to 8:05 p.m. (especially a Sunday game!), I’m going to don a shirt that says “I Hate ESPN."I will be certain to blog about my experience entering the park wearing that shirt.