We’re all afforded rights by means of our jobs, your religion if you have one, and the constitution of the country in which we reside to name a few. But our opinions, while free to have, often come at a price if aired publicly … and Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla is paying that price as we speak.
But should he?
A couple of weeks ago, Colt Lyerla expressed via Twitter his interest in an internet theory regarding a conspiracy surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings. In doing so, the young man from Hillsboro High School touched a nerve of an already hypersensitive “internet mob” whose existence seems to revolve around any opportunity to get mad. Certainly, such topic matter should be danced around with the most delicate of feet. Through any eyes what occurred that Friday morning was a tragedy to the nth degree, and due to the severity of said tragedy those directly affected should be offered at least a minimum level of respect. But, should any alternative viewpoint – in spite of how you or I may view it – be not only discarded, but also subject to punishment by superiors in the position to do just that?
This is where 1st Amendment Pit Bulls lean heavily on the right to free speech and demand one in Mr. Lyerla’s shoes be afforded his right to speak his mind, and they’d be correct in his right to speak freely. However, the right to free speech does not afford you immunity to any consequences which may ensue subsequent to the aforementioned free speech. In this case, Lyerla is representing the University of Oregon and the university has the right to define its representation. While respecting the tight end’s right to an alternative perspective, it’s their right to curtail it based on rules designed to protect their image. He essentially works for them; therefore he’s subject to their rules. This is not an uncommon scenario in the “real world,” nor is it unprecedented in the world of sports.
In 1996, Denver Nuggets guard Mohmoud Abdul-Rauf ignited a firestorm of negativity due to his decision not to stand for the National Anthem prior to games. He felt that due to the United States’ “long history of tyranny,” he’d be in conflict with his Islamic beliefs if he were to salute such an “oppressive state” by means of participating in its anthem. In spite of his right to protest in such a manner, the NBA chose to fine Abdul-Rauf with each active protest. They respected his right, while simultaneously protecting their image by means of a deterrent. Oregon is doing the same with Lyerla.
The school has separated itself from the comments he made and reiterated to him his responsibility as an athlete representing their name. He’s apologized for his actions, but defended his opinion. Good enough.
I’m not offended by Lyerla’s opinion regarding the shooting in Connecticut. I may not agree with it and to be honest, found much of the video to which he linked-to to be obvious propaganda, but his opinion is his own and he has that right … and the University of Oregon exercised theirs.