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How Facebook and Twitter are Affecting Major Sports and Individual’s First Amendment Rights

                                         

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 Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have made a profound impact on the world of sports, especially in the past few months. Some leagues and sports teams have taken the stance that postings should be censored or eliminated, which could violate an individual’s First Amendment freedom of speech rights. 

 

Twitter is a social networking site in which users post real time updates in 140 characters or less for their followers to read.  Coincidentally many athletes and individuals involved in the sports world have decided to become involved in the Twitter revolution and publish their thoughts online for everybody to see.  The phenomenon has affected the NBA the most.  When Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva decided to Tweet at halftime during a game last month, he was heavily criticized by his head coach Scott Skiles who has since banned Twitter from the locker room. http://nba.fanhouse.com/2009/03/17/skiles-no-tweeting-in-the-locker-room/  The coach’s argument was that tweeting during half time gives the appearance that his team is not focused.  Other popular NBA personalities such as Shaquille O’Neal and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban have climbed aboard the Twitter bandwagon and post about such things as new endorsement deals to bad officiating. Cuban was fined 25K when he criticized the officiating in a game last month.  http://nba.fanhouse.com/2009/03/28/mark-cuban-rips-refs-on-twitter/

 

Facebook is a hugely popular social networking site in which users can reconnect with old friends, share pictures, and also start and join fan groups such as the group “John Wall Please come to NC State!!!!”  There are several groups on Facebook that attempt to encourage a recruit to attend a particular school.  However the NCAA has taken objection to fan groups on Facebook that could influence a student athlete to choose one school over another and believes that the groups violate NCAA rules.  The NCAA has attempted to take action against individuals who start groups such as the one mentioned above.  Such action could include refusing to sell tickets to individuals who start such groups and dissociation from an athletic program.  http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/collegesports/2009021968_facebook11.html

This begs the question, should the NBA, the NCAA and other sports governing bodies be able to limit an individual’s First Amendment freedom of speech rights. 

The NBA is a private entity who employs and regulates individuals who must abide by the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement and team rules.  As a private entity with their own set of rules and regulations, the organization may limit what employees and those associated with the league may say.  The team’s are who is paying an NBA players salary and if the players don’t like the rules, then they can play somewhere else.  If the NBA felt that Twitter was a problem, they could add a rule banning it from locker rooms and limit the content to non NBA activities if they felt that the tweeting was getting out of hand.  At the moment the NBA has not indicated that they will seek to limit the use of Twitter among those associated with the NBA.  In Cuban’s case, criticizing an official in any medium whether online or not when you are an NBA owner is grounds for a fine. 

The NCAA is also a private entity, however many universities are public and cannot limit the speech of individuals as long as the speech does not fall into a regulated category such as being obscene or inciting violence.  A University may always refuse to sell tickets to whomever they please or choose not to let an individual participate in University sponsored events.  However any other action taken that could limit speech would not be allowed.  Therefore if an individual seeks to start a Facebook group and has no intention of attending a game or interacting with a University they have little to worry about in terms of getting in any serious trouble as they are not governed by the NCAA.  However the NCAA could decide to punish schools who allow such groups to be formed.  I have trouble seeing how these types of groups will be regulated in the future unless the NCAA forces Facebook to restrict such groups by threatening to pull all NCAA related content from Facebook, such as March Madness Brackets or other fan groups.

With Twitter and Facebook still in their infancy it will be interesting to see how they evolve and continue to influence the world of sports and entertainment.

 
 
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