ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Staff photo by Robin Rudd/ Chris Malone, UTC's offensive line coach at the time, talks to players during a home game against Western Carolina in September 2019.

Ever read the First Amendment? Takes about five seconds. Here it is: "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."

That's it. Forty-five words. Might fit in a single tweet, which doesn't mean you should use it as an excuse to tweet anything you want.

Unfortunately, that too often seems to be the reasoning behind a lot of stupid behavior from people who should know better. "The Constitution gives me freedom of speech," they seem to think, "so I can say pretty much anything I like as long as I don't knowingly lie or slander someone."

This is the same Constitution, of course, that gives us the right to bear arms. It doesn't, however, give us the right to just shoot anyone we want.

Common sense should come into play in every decision we make, in every action we take regarding another human being. Good judgment and a sense of responsibility — a sadly disappearing trait among too many of us — would help as well.

Which is where former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga assistant football coach Chris Malone, and the lawsuit he filed against UTC this past week for firing him after a January tweet he shot off concerning Georgia politician Stacey Abrams, comes into play.

On a strictly legal and Constitutional basis, one could somewhat argue that Malone's contention that he was merely exercising his right to free speech under the First Amendment has merit, though his accusation that Abrams was "cheating in an election again" would also appear to cross the line in terms of slandering her, at least in the dictionary definition; from a legal standpoint, the standard for libel (the written form of slander) against a public figure is higher.

After all, there's never been any real proof that the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff election results, which incensed Malone enough to take to Twitter to share his anger, were tampered with in any way. Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock merely ended up with more votes than sitting Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Case closed.

As for his negative comments regarding Abrams' physical appearance, however cruel and tasteless they might be, they may not deserve a reprimand stronger than a suspension without pay, a few sensitivity training sessions and as heartfelt an apology to Abrams as Malone could muster.

Yet one point above all others makes UTC's dismissal of Malone wholly understandable, especially given the toxic political and social climate we're currently residing in. Call it common sense, or lack thereof.

Malone may have indeed been using his own Twitter account on his own time — and may have deleted the offensive tweet within 30 minutes of first posting it in the middle of the night when three former Mocs football players disapproved of it — but he was not only employed by UTC, much of his job was to recruit talented athletes, many of them Black, just like Abrams.

In these racially charged times, how stupid and insensitive was it for Malone, whatever his political beliefs, to attack Abrams with childish digs of "Fat Albert" and "Enjoy the buffet Big Girl!" when she is not only a justifiable hero within the Black community, but arguably the most influential and powerful Black woman in the entire country?

This is not a slight at Vice President Kamala Harris — who is not only the first Black but also the first woman to become VP in this country — but consider this: Had it not been for Abrams' savvy political chops in orchestrating Ossoff's and Warnock's wins, Harris wouldn't be the deciding vote in the U.S. Senate to push through President Joe Biden's expansive and expensive progressive agenda.

Without Abrams' passion and tenacity after her own failed campaign for governor in the Peach State a couple of years ago, Biden's grand plan — whether you love it or loathe it — would go nowhere, blocked at every turn by a Republican-controlled Senate in no mood to do business with his administration.

Because of that, Abrams is no longer a rising political star, she's one who has arrived. For Malone to miss the importance of that within a Black community he must earn trust from in order for the Mocs to recruit the players they need to win is almost a fireable offense unto itself.

This isn't to say Malone can't or shouldn't win his lawsuit. Free speech is under fire in this country like never before if the wrong people don't like what you say. Without choosing sides, there often seems to be a double standard. We also appear to have lost a capacity for forgive. A single misstep is a fireable offense, however laudable and honorable someone's past. It stokes unnecessary anger and distrust on both sides, and it needs to stop.

Yet Malone's current plight — fired from a job he loved and was successful in because of his inability or unwillingness to keep his thoughts to himself — should also serve as a cautionary tale, especially when it comes to social media.

Carpenters have a saying about measure twice, cut once. Others say think before you act.

Before you hit that "send" button when you're posting to Twitter, you might want to think three or four times about the potential consequences of a tweet. The First Amendment may protect your right to say pretty much what you want, but it doesn't protect you from the fallout of saying something you shouldn't.

Understanding and appreciating the difference may free you from looking for a new job because you threw away your old one.

some text
Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT