Free-speech issues, both real and imagined, shined harsh lights on the Olympic hosts and a pocket of NFL fans
This is an article from the Aug. 12, 2013 issue
To hear some dimwits tell it, last week was a bad one for athletes interested in speaking freely. You see, on Wednesday, Crossing Broad, a Philly sports site, posted a video of Eagles receiver Riley Cooper plenty soused at a Kenny Chesney concert, threatening "to jump that fence and fight every n----- here, bro." Witnesses later gave the outburst some context: Cooper had wanted to go backstage at the show, but he lacked the proper credentials. When a security guard told him he couldn't breach Chesney's inner sanctum, Cooper lost it, while a red light glowed nearby on the screen of a smartphone.
This happened two months ago, in June, before Chesney's "No Shoes Nation" caravan had made its way to Saskatchewan and back again. There was no such lull between the video's surfacing and Cooper's earnest, somber apology, which arrived after an hour's wait. A contrite press conference followed, as did a rich sampler of teammates' opinions, some harsh, others hopeful. This is where things ought to have ended.
Instead, the team excused Cooper indefinitely to attend counseling, as though a white man's drunken loutishness at a Kenny Chesney concert (a petri dish for so many strains of drunken white-male loutishness) really demands rigorous analysis. The next month at Eagles camp—and the next year on the field against NFL defenders—will provide lessons more permanent and practical. Cooper's disappearance and silence swelled his brigade of idiot defenders, who crafted false equivalencies and mangled the Constitution. A representative comment: "We have free speech no one apologized for saying white men can't jump, I'm a giant fan but now a fan of yours too #beProud."
There was one other odious ending, this one from the concert that night in June. Cooper eventually did make it backstage and later onstage. While Chesney sang to a sold-out stadium about just how much the "boys of fall" mean, Cooper sprinted around, sweating, dancing and high-fiving, having the time of his life.
BUT AS COOPER'S defenders were busy fretting over imaginary free-speech concerns, real ones arose concerning the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.
Russian leaders really don't care for homosexuality. The activity itself is legal, but any kind of speech that might promote it in public—from same-sex hand-holding to rainbow flags, and media coverage thereof without an accompanying disclaimer—isn't. It's "gay propaganda," terribly damaging to minors. Citizens, elected officials and the press all face fines; foreigners face detention and deportation.
It would be bad enough if the legislation had been on the Russian books for ages and had stuck around because of parliamentary inertia, but Russian president Vladimir Putin actually signed the bill into law on June 30. (Do they not have Macklemore over there?) The IOC said it had been assured by Russian higher-ups that the law would not affect anyone traveling to Sochi for the Games—but, naturally, other Russian officials said the law would be enforced as usual. Then more officials told the press that the code would be relaxed. Anyone traveling to Sochi would be well advised to get things in writing; "We had the assurance of your deputy undersecretary for leisure and fearmongering!" will probably not work before a jailer.
Besides, anyone can fake tolerance for three weeks. In 2008, China tried to disappear its bad record in human rights and environmental protection with fireworks and gripping architecture. In 2016, Rio de Janeiro—swarmed by protesters for months because of high taxes and corruption, much of it related to World Cup and Olympic spending—will attempt to do the same. Istanbul, now the center of its own protest movement, is one of the finalists for 2020. The Games are an exceedingly pricey—and futile—exercise in trying to convince foreigners that all they have seen and known for years is untrue. Istanbul will fit right in.
And Sochi? Well, let's just say we're hoping Johnny Weir makes an appearance.