The Rights, Responisbilities, and Repercussions of Free Speech


For those who may have been living underground during the last week, you might have missed the firestorm that started over the racist comments caught on tape by an NBA owner, followed up by him being banned from NBA games for life as well as the attempt to force him out of league team ownership.

The story contains a special mix of several lowest common denominator topics combined with the high profile of the person in question and the celebrities involved or chiming in ensures this story will be swirling around for an extended time as all the different versions/spins of the details come to light.

One key observation I see during this controversy is how many people mistakenly believe that because the hateful comments that were disclosed were not meant to be public, there should be no consequences for what was said. It goes as far as making the NBA owner appear to be a “victim” of a violation of his 1st Amendment rights of free speech as well as his right to privacy.

It’s clear that there is a serious misunderstanding of what it means to have freedom on speech, as well as the responsibilities that go with it.

The 1st Amendment gives one the power to speak freely without fear of being arrested or persecuted by the government- it does NOT give one carte blanche to say whatever they want with no consequences of those words uttered.

Newton’s 3rd law of motion states that for every action, there is a reaction, and the same applies to speech. We already know that the freedom of speech has responsibilities such as not falsely yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater or other bad behavior along those lines.

What many people seem to miss are the personal consequences that may arise from what was said. Just because the government will not arrest you for voicing your opinions, others that hear you have the right to voice their own opinions of what you say as well as the freedom to take action against you as long as it is legal.

For example, you have the “right” to tell your boss at work that you think they are the scum of the earth and don’t qualify as being a human. You won’t get arrested for that. However, your boss also has the “right” to terminate your employment and show you the exit door. You would think this would be obvious common sense, but reading so many comments from others says otherwise. The boss isn’t denying your free speech, but rather exercising their own “freedom” to act in response to your words.

The next problem area deals with rights of privacy.  If you’ve said something that was recorded without your knowledge or consent, can it be used against you? In a court of law, likely not, but in the court of “public opinion”, absolutely. This is the key reason why folks should be highly diligent when exercising their freedom of speech, because in the real world, your words can have real consequences, good and bad.

The reality of life is anything you say that is made public whether intentionally or not, can be used against you regardless of how the information was obtained. When it comes to computers and communication I’ve been told never to write anything down that you couldn’t take being put on the front page of a newspaper or in front of your parents. This warning actually applies to all forms of communication.

When talking to people on “private matters”, you need to choose your confidantes with great care. The NBA owner in question said something in private and had his trust betrayed when what he said made it to the public. The person who broke that trust was in the wrong for doing that, but it doesn’t change the fact that the info is out there and will be subject to whatever the consequences are.

It amazes me that I see so many people expressing the opinion that because the NBA owner’s privacy was breached, he should not be liable for what those intended “private” comments were. This is not how the world works. The court of public opinion is not subject to the same restrictions or limitations as the court of law.

Here are some direct examples to make it clear-

1) A person is married, but having an affair. This person reveals all the sordid details to a “friend” who secretly records the conversation, which makes it to the spouse being cheated on. Yes, the friend was wrong in betraying a trust, but that doesn’t mean the “cheater” gets to go to the cheated on spouse and say “I never intended for you to hear those words, therefore let’s forget it ever happened.”

2) A high profile employee of “Coke” is secretly taped trashing Coke as garbage and promoting Pepsi. If that tape becomes public, the Coke employee will most likely lose their job.

It doesn’t matter about the “legality” or “ethics” under which the cat is let out of the bag – once it’s out, it’s out.

What you are seeing in the NBA is capitalism at work. The revelation about this NBA owner makes him toxic to the NBA brand which can have serious repercussions to their profit and growth going forward. Most businesses avoid association with highly controversial topics like the plague because they want EVERYONE’s money and don’t want anyone feeling excluded. As a result, they are quick to distance themselves from all sources that can negatively impact the bottom line.

The billionaire NBA owner now banned should understand this more than anyone else.








7 thoughts on “The Rights, Responisbilities, and Repercussions of Free Speech

  1. Free speech no matter how vile, is protected speech under the Constitution, but does not absolve one from consequences in the private sector. If more people understood that, the better off we’d all be.


  2. Wow, very well versed! And I completely agree with your view on this. We have the freedom of speech, but you’re right, there are consequences for the things we say.


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