Sunday, October 01, 2006


Boston University officials recently announced a zero-tolerance policy for foul language and sexist or racist comments from fans at university sporting events. Anyone caught violating this policy will be expelled from the event, and repeat offenders may be permanently barred from attending sports events.

Students have argued that the policy infringes on longstanding traditions and the right to free speech. But a university official disagreed, telling The Boston Globe, "I don't equate school spirit with the yelling of obscenities."

Is the university right to ban such language at games? Or, by doing so, has it censored the fans' right to free expression? What do you think?

Send your thoughts to or post them by clicking on "comments" below. Please include your name, your hometown and where you read this column. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business" (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.


Anonymous said...

Clarification please: What do they mean by "racist and sexist" comments? In which venues will the university enforce these rules?

Historically, any time universities impose a speech code, they only enforce the codes selectively. Universities have turned a blind eye to politically correct students and staff trashing newspapers and speakers they don't agree with. They have made excuses for students who steal and destroy whole editions of the campus newspaper.

I will believe that the universities care about curbing yahoo behavior when they are willing to forego the revenue from liquor sales at football games and when they respect all points of view, including those which are not politically correct.

Anonymous said...

The Boston University Leadership is to be commended for placing a ban on the use of foul,offensive language on their campus,including their sports arena's.

Emotions can run strong and can get out of control at sports events,but I maintain that nobody has the right and/or privilege to use swear words and any and all other vulgar expressions.

This is not an issue of free speech and the University of Boston did not go too far.The University of Boston did the right thing.

Bert Hoogendam,

Anonymous said...

My name is Sara L. from Westminster California, I read your artlce in the Register.
My friend goes to Boston Uni & hates the new rule. Her response: "Yeah, I don't really like that new rule. Especially since one of our best cheers is 'Fuck em up, fuck em up, BC sucks' It's been a tradition for years, even people's grandparents used to say those cheers!"

Anonymous said...

The second commentator maintains that this is not an issue of free speech, and disguises the speech issue behind their not having a "right to use swear words and vulgar expressions." Oh yes they do. I don't like it and that's one reason I don't go to games, but they do indeed have a right to make asses of themselves. And I have a right to avoid them. Sports fans are notorious for their bad behavior, but there's a difference between offensive speech and assault. The whole purpose of the free speech portion of the first amendment - as if it needs explaining again, but perhaps it does to our neighbors - is about protecting the speech you don't like - not just the speech that you do. So the writer thinks the University is doing the right thing to tell sports fans how they may verbally express their approval or disapproval of a game? Perhaps the University should come out with a list of accepted expressions that fans may use. I'd actually attend a game to see them try to enforce that one!

Anonymous said...

A ticket to a paid event is not a license for the "fans" to personally assault a participant. I wholeheartedly agree with Boston University officials. The NCAA and NFL are also encouraging more positive fan paraticipation.

Anthony Elia
Mission Viejo, CA
Orange County Register

Anonymous said...

Ah, Boston. The Mecca of left-wing ultra liberals. Home of Ted Kennedy and
John Kerry. Those that think it's ok to kill an unborn child, but cruel and
inhuman to execute a convicted child murderer. Now Boston U wants to ban
"foul language and sexist or racist comments"? Seems that because something
offends them, it's ok to suspend that pesky First Amendment. Just another
example of hypocrisy in our society. The Constitution and associated
Amendments is either relevant or it is not. Regardless if you are a liberal
or a conservatve, you can't chose the parts you want to follow and dismiss
the rest.

Chuck Jones
Anaheim, CA
Orange County Register

Anonymous said...

There is no "absolute" right of free speech nor there should be. If you want to critique my dress, grooming styles, my religious or political beliefs, my moral standards or my taste in music, please feel free to do so. My feeling is that a REASONED critique should be helpful in a dialogue. Name calling and slurs without a basis in fact are a negative in discussions. Some people feel that a basis in fact for their statements is not required. I think that the courts should take a step forward and make things equitable across the board. Courts have decided that individuals can become totally profane in public and perform acts in public without limits. Should I perform these acts in a court room the only thing left of me in the courtroom would be my shoes. The rest of me would be in a cell behind the courtroom. Why should I have to go out in public and subject my young granddaughter to this but a mature, "reasoned" jurist sitting on the bench should not.

I was in a restaurant recently seated next to a gentleman who through his conversation indicated that he was a sitting judge. He was describing how one counsel negatively referred to opposing counsel. He was describing how he chastised the attorney and forced an apology. But I have seen all too many times lawyers verbally berating and abusing people on the stand (witnesses, victims and other people called to testify). Never have I seen a judge intercede in this verbal assault.

I believe that if people would approach others as they would wish to be treated, it would alleviate this situation. Judges will accept a criticism of their decisions and rulings, perhaps grudgingly. But questioning if their mother was going to be suckling numerous offspring in a kennel, sty or barn, I do not think would be taken so graciously. Supposedly there is an underlying concept throughout our society and government that there is a sense of equality but in this aspect there is none. It would seem that many of the people of Liberal persuasion are in strong support of an unfettered right of free speech. Would these free-speech people totally support racially-motivated diatribes that advocated the killing of people based on their religion, sex, sexual-orientation, ethnicity or country of origin? I believe not.

I do not thing anybody in a sane moment would say that it would be okay to yell fire in a crowded theatre, to scream "Death to Muslims" or "Kill Bush". But it is sad that some people believe this to be okay behind the guise of "freedom of speech." I get mad at people on occasion but would anybody with a bit of reason say that if would be appropriate for me to threaten them with death or great bodily injury. I believe that "freedom of speech" should try to align itself with Jack Webb's "Just the facts, maam." If you cannot bring the facts, don't show up.

Bruce Milroy
Orange County (CA) Register

Anonymous said...

I think that the Universities have the right to set their rules. Each School has its own standards and its own level of expectations of student behavior.

Sometimes the parents of these students don't teach their own kids about citizenship and how to be good people in this society and school sometimes have to step in and play that role.

Years ago we didn't have the different types of traditions or cultures to deal with but today their are so many different cultures that the schools should set a common standard for the kids, this way they all know what is expected of them regardless of race or culture or up bringing....those are my thoughts....