words have consequences, and so does being a jerk

The above is a beautiful moment. It's beautiful because Michael Sam has been working most of his life to be able to play in the NFL. It's beautiful because it was risky for him to come out months ago before the draft. And it's beautiful that because he came out, his boyfriend was able to share his joy in one of the most important moments in his life. To get news that he had been drafted after all of that work unleashed a well of emotion in the moment, a moment he was able to share with someone he loves. 

A part of me finds the outrage, the homophobic comments, the concern over gay players in the NFL ridiculous and unbelievable. Another part of me, the part that lives every single day of my life with homophobia and sexism, is not surprised at all. 

Recently Miami Dolphins player Don Jones was fined and suspended (and has to undergo sensitivity training) for his homophobic comments on Twitter. Let's pause for a moment and consider the kind of person that automatically takes to Twitter to spout homophobia. Let's also consider that Jones is part of an organization that  allowed hazing and bullying to occur in its locker room, an organization that assigned Richie Incognito, a player with sexual harassment complaints against him, to its leadership council. I suppose it is not entirely surprising that he would tweet "horrible" in response to a beautiful moment in a future rookie player's life. What is surprising to me, is that he was fined for such a response. Heck yeah, NFL!

Because of the fine, there is all kinds of hullabaloo going on about violating Freedom of Speech, something, by the way that seems to happen whenever someone says something racist, sexist or homophobic in a public forum and get fired or suspended or fined or incur any kind of consequences from the terrible thing they said. Here's the thing: freedom of speech does not guarantee you freedom from consequences. Words have power, and while according to the First Amendment, you can not be jailed for criticizing the government or advocating unpopular ideas that people find distasteful there are exceptions made for obscenity, child pornography laws, speech that incites lawless behavior, copyright, slander, and violating protection from violence or threat. So, yes you have a legal right to express your beliefs, but others, including business and organizations have legal rights, too, rights to enact contractual fines, fire or suspend individuals violating codes of conduct, policies and other contractual obligations. 

A friend of mine who does some consulting work for international companies read off pages of her contract recently that included an understanding that she could be fired for "offensive, unruly behavior, behavior damaging to our brand, or in violation of the codes of conduct policy." The codes of conduct she told me involved policies on drinking too much with clients, specifying the number of acceptable drinks, as well as an entire section on hygiene. While you may believe it is in my friend's right to use the company gym and skip the shower, her employers do not, and when she signs that contract, she is obligated to abide by those policies and practices. 

Thus if the NFL believes Don Jones violated discrimination policies, or if the Dolphins want to ban Jones from team events until he undergoes sensitivity training, they have legal, contractual rights to do so. None of those actions relate to the First Amendment, which is meant to give American people the right to criticize the government, to speak out against violations of civil rights, to protest violence and speak our mind without fear of being placed in prison. Unlike other areas of the world where you do not question the government; you make specific, government approved art, and you like it that way. We should really be more grateful for our right to share our thoughts and opinions. However, if your thoughts and opinions are small-minded, judgmental, sexist, racist, or homophobic, I have the right to think you're an asshole. If you use cultural moments like people saying dumb crap on Twitter about Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend to fear-monger regarding "the gay agenda" or the "lack of free speech", I also have the right to think you're an asshole. I'm looking at you, Fox News et al.

Free speech does not give you a pass to hide your hate behind a belief system.