Friday, April 22, 2016

No, Curt Schilling is not a free speech martyr.

Some angry talk these days from my conservative friends about ESPN's firing of famed pitcher Curt Schilling after Schilling posted some anti-transgender comments to social media the other day. "Progressive America is sending a message," National Review's David French wrote. "In the institutions it controls, there is no distinction between the personal and professional. Keep dissent to yourself. All your words belong to your boss."

I don' think that's quite the lesson to draw here.

This is what Curt Schilling posted:

It's a distasteful, near-pornographic image — one that, even if it said something like AMERICA IS THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD or VOTE FOR BERNIE SANDERS might've caused most people a bit of faint-heartedness.

Now, understand too: Schilling had already been suspended last fall for THIS post:

Too me, the sentiment is objectionable without being pornographic. This is the incident I might've criticized ESPN about. But Schilling, at the time, very much affirmed ESPN's right and wisdom to take him off-air.

"I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part," he wrote.

So Schilling knew there was a line, and had affirmed his employer's right to hold that line.

I have no idea what Schilling's contract said, but if you're ESPN, you're not just paying Schilling for his opinions, but to express himself in a manner that's entertaining, insightful -- and, because it's a business, doesn't turn too many customers away at the door. Cause people to want to actually turn away from your product, and, well, you have a problem. ESPN is not in the business of supporting expression that makes it *harder* for the company to do business.

Listen: ESPN knew — everybody knew — that Schilling is a conservative when the network hired him. If it hated conservative expression so much, that move is impossible to imagine. It knew what it was getting.

So if Schilling had said something along the lines of: "I have concerns about sending my daughter to bathrooms with people who are born men and I support the North Carolina law," most likely he'd have his job, without changing the underlying substance of what he said. He might've caused an outcry; ESPN would've distanced itself from his remarks; maybe he'd have been given a warning of sorts. Bad enough, certainly. 

Instead, he chose to say it with one of the more grotesquely offensive, off-putting — and, yes, outlying — images possible. That there are consequences from his employer does not make him a free speeh martyr.


Anonymous said...

Well said. Also, it's not just about turning away ESPN's viewers, it's about causing people to take negative notice of the companies that advertise on ESPN.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I find the anti-Muslim image much more offensive than the silly bathroom image. The former is necessarily violent in intent, the latter just stupid.