On Fans and the First Amendment

I recall one of the great comebacks in elementary school being "I can do what I want, it's a free country." It was always a solid choice, given the breadth of knowledge of constitutional law possessed by the typical 8 year-old.

I raise this because there was a regrettable incident at the UVA-Miami basketball game Saturday night.

Up in the cheap seats, a Miami fan came to the game looking for trouble, and wound up leaving the arena in handcuffs before halftime. The bulk of his offense was jawing at Virginia fans, and using foul language, although we overheard the arrest was for drunk in public. The Miami fans that accompanied him spent the remainder of the game commenting about how it was hypocritical for UVA not to grant their friend freedom of speech, especially in light of the fact that UVA was founded by Thomas Jefferson. I guess it would not matter if I pointed out that Jefferson was not a signer of the Constitution. That's beside the point.

Like the "it's a free country" retort, invoking the First Amendment at sporting events to defend your imaginary right to act like a jackass is suitable for anyone under the age of 14 -- people who don't know better.

Let's be clear on what protection is NOT in the Constitution. You do have the right to speak your mind. You DO NOT have the right to an audience or venue of your choosing. Remember this, and it will prevent you from improperly invoking the First Amendment when it doesn't actually apply.

Beyond this, the actions of this particular fan begs a discussion on fan etiquette when on another team's turf. When in another team's venue, act like you're a guest in a stranger's house. Cheer on your team, but don't taunt the hosts. Use your sense of humor if you have a good one. Complement a few of the home team's players to any opposing fans nearby. You'll be surprised how much more pleasant the experience can be when you're not getting death stares from everyone around you. Don't get into obscenity laden arguments one section away from the elementary school choir that sang the National Anthem. Stuff like that. It's a game, people, not a war.

Finally, let this serve as a warning for all future visitors to University of Virginia athletic events. The athletic department at Virginia is dedicated to creating a family atmosphere, and the event staff is damn serious about maintaining it. Cheer for your team, be polite, watch your language, and your chances of seeing the entire game will rise dramatically.

P.S. To head off a potential flame war, the fan that got arrested yelled "Let's go Hokies" at one point. I think that says it all.

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