Dana White, the president of the UFC, is an example of how sports leagues ought to handle the issue of free speech on controversial topics.
In a press conference after a victory, fighter Colby Covington called the Black Lives Matter movement “a complete sham.” He continued, “It’s a joke. They’re taking these people that are complete terrorists. They’re taking these people that are criminals. These aren’t people that are hard-working Americans, blue-collar Americans. These are bad people. They’re criminals. They shouldn’t be attacking police. If you’re breaking the law and you’re threatening the cops with weapons, you deserve to get what you get. Law enforcement protects us all. If we don’t have law enforcement, it’d be the wild, wild West.” He also called a fellow fighter who supports BLM a communist, a Marxist, and someone who “hates America” and “stands for criminals.”
Sounds pretty reasonable to me. Covington could perhaps have phrased things a bit more diplomatically, but I agree overall with his sentiments. Of course, given the political environment of 2020, fellow UFC fighters and sponsors promptly erupted in outrage, calling Covington and his comments “flat-out racist” and “disgusting.”
To his credit, White defended athletes’ freedom of speech. “These guys all have their own causes, things, their own beliefs,” he said. “We don’t muzzle anybody here. We let everybody speak their mind. I don’t know what he said that was racist. I don’t know if I heard anything racist that he said.”
More coaches, teams, and leagues should adopt similar attitudes. True diversity and inclusion require tolerance and acceptance of a wide range of political views. With athletes almost unanimously expressing support for the BLM movement, usually with the wholehearted endorsement of their teams and leagues, it is important to consider the rights of those with dissenting views. If athletes can speak out in favor of BLM, fairness requires that they also be free to speak out against BLM if that is how they feel.
According to news reports, the counterprotesters’ goal was to disrupt the rally and to shout down its speakers. They chanted “cops and Klan go hand in hand” at police officers. One berated a reporter who was attempting to interview a rally attendee, shouting “There aren’t two sides here; they’re Nazis.” Anti free speech protest organizer Peter Berard said, “We’re trying to show that Boston is no place for their hate.”
These words and actions are completely hypocritical.
There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with the views expressed at the rally, but disrupting the event and attempting to drown out its speakers goes well beyond expressing your own views. It is an act of aggression and intolerance against people whose only crime is holding different opinions than you.
By openly stating that Boston is “no place for” the free speech rally, the protest organizer displayed his intolerance for anyone who happens to hold different beliefs from him. So did the individual who yelled at the reporter that “there aren’t two sides here.” Even if the rallygoers were Nazis, which they aren’t, there are always two sides, and to claim otherwise is the ultimate in bigotry. The entire point of freedom of speech is that there is a variety of possible opinions on every issue, and everyone should have the opportunity to make their views heard. Counterprotesters openly voiced the sentiment that their opinions are the only legitimate ones and that people with different opinions do not belong in the city of Boston. I can’t think of anything more intolerant or more hateful than that.
Even the coverage by the Boston Globe was biased, with the words “free speech” appearing in quotation marks within the headline and throughout the article. Obviously, the reporters are perfectly welcome to question the opinions expressed at the rally. But to question what the rally is even about? For every political event, protest, or rally that I can remember, the media has simply taken at face value the event’s stated topic. To refuse to do so here conveys a tone of contempt and ridicule that is not appropriate for a news article. Saturday’s event was not a “free speech” rally. It was a free speech rally. A concept that too many people in Boston and beyond don’t seem to understand or value.