“Fire Matt Millen”: Free Speech?

Thursday, December 22, 2005
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For a Lions fan–like me–this is a great, new website. Never before in the NFL have fans been so agitated and hung-up on the notion of firing a……..yes, general manager. The coach, in fact, was already sacked. fire millen.jpg

Since the Lions hired Millen 5 years ago, they have the worst record in the NFL during those 5 years. Us patient Detroiters have seen non-performing, top draft picks; one coaching nightmare after another; poor, front office management; and the usual “Who’s the quarterback today?” issues since–basically–1957. I’d say we’ve run out of patience.

So now, my city’s greatest window to the world has been the “fire Matt Millen” signs that are everywhere in Southeastern Michigan. They not only appear at Ford Field, but at other sports events elsewhere. This hilarious story makes the news rounds everywhere. This has caused Lions management to ban all signs at Ford Field. The other day, at Ford Field, there was great video capture of a fan with a “fire Matt Millen” sign being tackled by stadium security as he blatantly mugged for the tube, and for all to see. He was tossed from the stadium, but heck, he had better moves than any of our running backs.

DeBruin attended the game with his roommate, Nathan Bleyaert, who got the tickets from his father, David Gibson, a season ticket holder since the 1960s. Gibson recently had surgery and missed the game. DeBruin said he was on his way to the bathroom when he witnessed fans passing around the sign in section 130. He grabbed it and began his sprint, just like other fans trying to avoid having the sign taken from them. But he took it further. He was going to pass it to someone else, but fans encouraged him to keep running.

“The aisles kept opening up, and people encouraged me to keep running so I kept going,” DeBruin said. “Everybody started cheering me. I was going to try to go around the entire stadium. I had no idea security was after me at first.”

He wasn’t aware he was becoming a celebrity until after the game when friends told him they saw him on television.

DeBruin’s phone rang off the hook most of the day Monday, and he appeared on at least three talk radio stations before going to class at Henry Ford Community College.

Here are some of the ways in which fans are expressing their “love” for their team. The picture below shows GM world headquarters in the background (downtown Detroit). matt millen3.jpg

Lots of folks here have a problem with the “immaturity” of such actions. However, I think it’s funny, and it’s a great way for peaceful protest. The anti-Millen crowd also hold organized “Angry Fan Marches” downtown.

The Detroit Free Press has shaken its finger at Lions management for banning signs under the usual free expression (speech) argument. A Freep editorial offers this up: “Signs expressing fans’ views at Ford Field should appear Sunday and in the future — not because of the Lions’ benevolence, but because our Constitution protects the right to display them.”

As a libertarian adamant about this issue’s clarity, I’d typically say “nope–no right to free speech, but only private property.” What the majority of free speech advocates ignore is that private property can never be separated from free speech.

However, Ford Field is not private property. Ford Field was built with largely public monies (stolen from taxpayers), and is owned by the Detroit/Wayne County Stadium Authority. Thus we have the usual conundrum: government ownership of property leaves such issues unresolved and without clarity. As Bill Anderson states, “Freedom and government are not synonymous, nor can they peacefully coexist. If one expands, the other must contract. In the case of true freedom of speech, government has expanded, which can only mean that authentic free speech is being suppressed.”

Here is a link to Rothbard’s take on “shouting fire in a crowded theatre” from The Ethics of Liberty, libertarianism’s greatest primer on such issues.

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