To me freedom and liberty are inalienable rights and perhaps the only natural laws. The only restrictions on my liberty I can accept, with good conscience, are those which restrict it in such a way that it does no harm to others. My right to swing my arms is by nature boundless – except at the point of your nose, or even, the nose of the statue that belongs to you. This time I am living in now, in 21st century America, seems almost a call for Cold War nostalgia, where you cannot say certain things. Freedom of speech, in my estimation (and to my chagrin), is fast becoming so twisted in meaning that I fear we really no longer have the freedom at all. It is like saying, “come over whenever you want” soon followed by “except Tuesday or Thursday.” Asterisks exist even for freedom of speech, it seems. Caveat emptor.
One example of this pseudo-freedom (just enough rope…?) is the many websites that restrict the use of certain words, whether to “keep things civil, “protect the children,” or some other cowardly and usually doublespeak or holier-than-thou, papal (do as I say not as I do) line of reasoning. Take the word “retard” for instance, which several boards and discussion forums will ban just because. Apparently none of them realize there is a bread industry, or that adjectives and verbs, as well as nouns, use the same arrangement of letters. Maybe they have good reason to not allow the use of “bitch,” but then what do we call a female dog?
And getting to our subject, some young folks these days have no idea that the word “gay” may be used in ways that have nothing to do with sex at all. For Yahoo’s message boards, the phrase “that faggot Michael Sam” is censored as unacceptable because it uses the flagged word “faggot” – despite the fact that this word does have legitimate and correct uses. However the seemingly more graphic comment: “I don’t want to take a shower with a man who routinely takes another man’s penis into his orifices” is acceptable to these same boards.
But this is not a critique of spellcheck either, or advice as to how to squeak through inane commentary, that has been done before. What I wish to do in this short piece is call your attention to three current situations to illustrate the double standards and inconsistencies used today when understanding freedom and, especially, freedom of speech. All of these situations come from the National Football League, and all of them are hot media topics right now.
1. Johnny Manziel
A college phenomenon and Heisman winner with all the cockiness and flair of a Michael Irvin after an 8-ball of cocaine, “Johnny Football” is one of the most polarizing figures to come into the NFL in quite some time. By NFL football standards he is small (5′ 11″) and slight of build (maybe 200 dripping wet with work boots and a parka) and does not fit the “drawn up on computer” model of what the ideal quarterback should look like. Presumably this is one reason why, during the recent NFL draft, he fell faller than he should have, to the Cleveland Browns. He is moody and temperamental, however, a gamer and a winner, and whether he is seen as “cocky and arrogant” or “confident and decisive” seems to be in the eyes of the beholder, and is one of the main reasons for the polarizing effect he has had on people. Those who root for underdogs, the little people, the overachievers, the gamers, they are Manziel fans. Those who judge by appearance, and go by averages and measurables like height and weight, those who like greatness to at least appear humble, they do not care for Manziel. Coming from a wealthy family also works against Manziel’s popularity to some extent, as some have even called him spoiled. But money alone has never made one superior athlete, and when he steps onto the field he is just another body like everyone else, prone to the same injuries and so on. In fact, upon review of them one would have to conclude that ALL the legitimate criticisms against Johnny Football are not criticisms of his ability, but rather criticisms of his right to express himself, judgments of how he expresses himself, and problems with his “antics.”
Some would say “antics.” Others would say “mannerisms,” or even “trademarks.” Manziel’s critics are critics against freedom, and not accepting and tolerant as they should be. It’s as if they want him to change how he looks. Or how he plays, and so ruin him like they ruined Tim Tebow.
2. Michael Sam
It should be painfully obvious to anyone paying attention that people only give lipspeak to freedom of expression and freedom of speech these days. If the aspects of Johnny Manziel being discussed by his critics, namely his personality and behavior, were the same focus of their discussion about Michael Sam, without doubt those criticisms would be labeled as misdirected and inconsequential. “All we know is the kid can play ball,” is what we hear about Sam, with only the occasional reference to his “coming out” as being “the league’s first openly gay player.” As for Manziel, when the focus is on him, it is his lifestyle that is the real subject. The difference is that NO ONE dare criticize Sam’s lifestyle, as this would be considered intolerant today. Well let me here and now criticize it on many levels. And I am speaking to Sam. First, who cares, really, and why have you made it a rallying cry? Since when can being proud to do the things male homosexuals do be considered something admirable, or, as I have heard the term used, “pioneering”? What’s to be proud of? What barrier has been broken? What have you added to society? Allow me to use the cliché, but are cheerleaders now showering with the men, and are all football facilities going co-ed, gender unspecific? Are not gay men attracted to other men in the same way men are attracted to women – normally? Don’t worry, I will not look at your body while you shower…and in the light of our knowledge about blood-borne disease, well let’s just say for me it is the personal life of Sam that deserves a heck of a lot more criticism than does the few petty antics of Manziel. Who is the hero here? Can I kiss BOTH my girlfriends on TV when I get elected, be a pioneer and the league’s first admitted hypersexual? Do you really think you are the first gay man in the NFL? Or just the first arrogant gay man?
3. Washington Redskins
Finally, we have the case of the Washington Redskins. A team I am really ambivalent about, in a city I am not crazy about, to say the least. Apparently a small segment of the American Indian population, and even smaller segment of American citizens, seems to find the term “Redskins” in need of being banned. This has in turned spurned a MAJORITY of politicos and stuffed-shirt types wasting more of my tax dollars and court time on stepping on every free speech mandate provided for in the American Constitution. These miscreants have taken it upon themselves to label the simple word “Redskins” offensive, and they have apparently made it their life’s mission to make the football team based in the City That Never Thinks (yeah I made it up) change its horrific name. While I am no big Snyder fan, I stand with him, and Redskins fans worldwide, in his refusal to change the name. I am, frankly, dog-tired of these “do-good” movements that are quite selective in what good they are doing. In some less malicious eyes, Washington does honor to the Redskins by continuing to use the name. For many Americans the Indian depicted on the team helmet, dignified, in traditional attire, is the only thing Indian they know, and for many more an homage more than a ridicule. Were I Indian I would have no problem being called, even known by the nickname “Redskin,” just as some have no problem today calling themselves “redbone,” and to this day, to a couple of my friends, I am the “ginny” or “dago” or “greasy EYEtalian.”
Political correctness is a cancer, a disease in need of antiviral cleansing and then extensive recovery therapy. While on the one hand we spout cries for freedom, and use it as our battle flag worldwide, on the other we look to restrict it in our very own country and at the present time in, apparently, as many ways as we can. Understand one thing CLEARLY: Free speech was not accounted for in our founding documents to ensure you get to say “thank you,” “have a nice day, sir” and “Good Morning.” Free speech is meant to ensure even DIVISIVE speech is protected, that even UNPOPULAR voices get heard, more than that, even offensive things might be said, with freedom of knowing they MAY be said. As long as you do not slander another person, and so say about that person what you know is not true, or threaten a person, you can say whatever you want. This modern day disease that wants to say personal freedoms are trumped by corporate needs and policies is a persistent, living sham, a disease that is as ridiculous on its face as it is unconstitutional. What is any corporation but a conglomeration of individuals, each still protected by the Constitution, whether at work or not.