Our View: First Amendment is not a trump card

DKS Editors

In light of the recent events involving Sam Wheeler’s anti-gay comments on Twitter, some have argued that his First Amendment rights should have protected him from the indefinite suspension that followed; however, the consensus of our editorial board believes that an individual’s right to free speech does not exclude he or she from being held accountable by the institution that employs him or her.  

This incident is not unlike that of Phil Robertson, a previous star of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” who was also suspended after making anti-gay comments in an interview with GQ last month.  

A&E networks released a statement regarding Robertson’s comments on the matter, saying that his personal views “in no way reflect those of A&E networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.”

Likewise, the Kent State Athletic Department released a similar statement following the removal of Wheeler’s tweet and deletion of his account:

“We are aware of the insensitive tweets by one of our student athletes. On behalf of Kent State University, we consider these comments to be ignorant and not indicative of the beliefs held by our university community as a whole.”

Phil Robertson’s and Sam Wheeler’s suspensions have nothing to do with their First Amendment rights, or even with them as individuals. While Wheeler was within his rights to make anti-gay comments, the Kent State student-athlete handbook clearly states that, “participation in intercollegiate athletics at Kent State University is a privilege, not a right.”  Furthermore, all athletes are required to read and sign the Athletic Department’s Student-Athlete Policy Regarding Involvement in Internet Communities, which explains that, while student athletes are permitted to have social media accounts, the university reserves the right “to take action against any currently enrolled student-athlete engaged in behavior that violates University, Department, or team rules, including such behavior that is evidenced in postings on the internet.”  

Social media makes its users — and the content they share — omnipresent and available for the world to see. We all need to keep this in mind before posting content that anyone — including our employers — can see.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.