The United States is unique among nations in that our constitution guarantees freedom of speech via the First Amendment, which specifically states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Nowhere do those words, drafted in 1789 — fundamental to the Bill of Rights by James Madison — a Virginia representative who later became the fourth U.S. president, specify that the speech must be agreeable to a specific percentage of the populace. They are guaranteed to the speaker, not to a specific audience.
Yet Arizona native, University of Arizona graduate and philanthropist Robert Sarver, the 18-year majority owner of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, previously uttered words currently deemed sexist and racist, initially resulting in a one year suspension by the NBA and a hefty $10 million fine. Now he is being forced to sell the teams, though he has contritely stated, “As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. I expected that the commissioner’s one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I, and so many fans, love.”
The speech police have ruled otherwise. Though Sarver is unique in owning major teams, we the hoi polloi, (Greek for “the masses“), have less to lose but can also suffer from not falling in line with the latest edicts of the authoritative language masters. Speaking to work associates about anything other than business is risky these days, giving enhanced meaning to the words, “Silence is golden.” The lesson is, saying nothing is preferable to speaking, which could cost you your job or more. There is no path of redemption.