The Astros And The Freedom Of Speech

Athletes aren't exactly known as the brightest of people, especially baseball players. A recent Wall Street Journal report shows that of the current players on MLB rosters, there are only 26 college graduates (and that total includes managers like law school graduate Tony La Russa).

So when one hears them make stupid comments in interviews, one should probably forgive them, because oftentimes, they really don't know what the hell they're talking about.

Take for instance Houston Astros reliever LaTroy Hawkins -- currently on the DL with a case of the shingles. Hawkins was ejected from Monday night's game with the Chicago Cubs for arguing with home plate umpire Mike Everitt regarding balls and strikes.

In the locker room after the game, Hawkins went off on a diatribe about how Everitt was biased in favor of the Cubs, going so far as to say that Everitt "had determined who he wanted to win the game anyway."

So perhaps it's not shocking that MLB has chosen to investigate the comments made by Hawkins following that ejection. Former Houston Astro first baseman and General Manager Bob Watson, now the MLB's Discipline Czar, told Fox 26 Sports that "It's not good when a player questions the integrity of an umpire...He can do it in private, but not in public."

According to Chron.com's Jose de Jesus Ortiz, Hawkins stands by his comments and feels that he shouldn't be punished, because there is such a thing as free speech in America. "It's America, dude," was his response to the MLB investigation.

Now since Hawkins appears to not be one of the 26 college graduates, and since I don't think he went to law school like Mr. La Russa, I think I'll give him a bit of an education. The First Amendment gives you the right to say just about anything you want, and to make a complete ass of yourself while doing it. However, there's nothing in the Constitution to prohibit an employer or a private entity from punishing you for that statement -- unless, of course, the employer is the government.

The thing is, freedom of speech only protects you from punishment from government retribution over statements that you might make. Thus all of that stupid-ass "birther" crap that's going on right now.

While CNN would be perfectly within its rights to fire Lou Dobbs for being a complete idiot,  the Constitution prevents the feds from throwing Dobbs' ass in the jail or otherwise seeking some kind of retribution against him.

This same principal applies to LaTroy Hawkins. He can say whatever he wants to about the umpiring, or about hating the Cubs -- which I think every good American does -- or about Bud Selig really needing to spend some money on a good tailor. And the First Amendment lets him say whatever he wants, and it protects the government from doing anything to him.

However, as John Rocker can readily attest, MLB can do whatever it wants with its players, and it's perfectly constitutional -- whether it's within union guidelines is a completely different story, however.

There's no First Amendment problem here because Hawkins isn't being prevented from speaking. He can say whatever he wants, whenever he wants. And even if he's fined or suspended by MLB, his constitutional right to say whatever he wants isn't being restricted by the government.

He can still say it. As much as he wants. He just shouldn't expect MLB to like it.

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