Time for Professional Sports to Be Consistent on Free Speech

Umpire Joe West practicing his only known skill--blowing his stack!

Isn’t it time to apply free speech rules to major league sports? Officials can say anything they please and be as incompetent as the day is long, but if anyone has the temerity to criticize them, it costs them a bundle.

Consider two recent examples, one from the National Basketball Association and one from major league baseball. Rasheed Wallace of the Celtics has been fined a whopping $25,000 by the league twice this season. For that kind of coin he must have remained seated for the National Anthem and assaulted a fan, right? Nope. Rasheed’s egregious and costly transgressions involved criticizing NBA officiating. The first came when he suggested that referees have a double standard when it comes to poster child LeBron (middle name “Vastly Overrated") James; that is, James gets away with flagrant fouls but officials blow the whistle if someone so much as touches he who Rasheed dubbed the league’s “Golden Boy.” Rasheed got dunned again when he asked how it was possible for Kevin Durant—the Golden Boy in waiting—to go to the charity stripe 15 times in a game in which the entire Celtics team only took 17 free throws. Serious NBA watchers would say that Rasheed’s criticism of officials was on target both times, so why did it cost Wallace fifty grand to say what's true?

Now consider that major league baseball umpire Joe West called two entire teams—the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees—a “disgrace” because their recent game took 3:46 to play. He also called them “pathetic” and “embarrassing.” What would have happened if any one of the players on those teams used such language to criticize West or his crew? Once again a double standard applies.

I’ve been watching Chubby Joe’s tiresome act for quite awhile and he’s one of the league’s worst umpires. Not only is his strike zone consistent only in its inconsistency, but his hair-trigger temper makes him temperamentally unsuited for his job. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire noted that there is two minutes and twenty-five seconds worth of commercials each half inning. Do the math. If you multiply 145 seconds seventeen times, forty-one minutes of each game is due to TV, not player delays. Poor Joe West—as a senior umpire he’s only making $300,000 to work about 180 games per year (counting spring training). The poor slob gets a paltry $1666 per game and if each one is four hours long that’s just $416 an hour. I can’t think of anyone who’d work for that kind of chump change, can you?

If anyone cares, the 2010 Super Bowl took three hours and thirty-eight minutes to play. And football’s a game subject to a one-hour play clock. Thank God for the clock—it shaved a whopping eight minutes off of what it took the Sox and Yankees to play nine. Major league sports need either to hold their officials to the same standards as players, or unmuzzle the dogs and let each side nip at each other’s ankles. If it was me, Rasheed would get his money back and Joe West would be on the carpet.

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