Free speech is not just for speech that you like

The recent controversy over Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Donovan McNabb receiving special consideration by the sports media have highlighted some very important issues. Many have claimed that his comments were “racist,” that he was in effect implying that African-American quarterbacks couldn’t make it without special help. This is not even close to what he said. His comments were that he didn’t believe that McNabb’s performance rated the type of accolades he regularly receives in the press. It was his contention that the sports media is doing this because they want to see a “black quarterback succeed” since McNabb is one of the few African American quarterbacks. While I think he was clearly wrong about McNabb, the shark-like swimming around figurative blood in the water obscures the fact that these same people who are condemning him are also missing the point as to what free speech actually means.
Supporting free speech means that one must support everyone’s right to say what he or she feels even if such speech enrages you and makes your blood vessels explode. The only one who seems to have understood and expressed this was Donovan McNabb himself, who responded to Limbaugh’s comments in true gentlemanly fashion. The same cannot be said of certain Democrat presidential candidates who took advantage of the situation to demand that ESPN fire Limbaugh. If it truly is a “right” to free speech, then Rush should be able to express his opinion, regardless of how wrong it was, without fear of reprisal. If the public and the media as well as anyone else want to voice criticism of what he said, then they should do so, as is their right. Were he in a position to directly affect McNabb’s employment or career path, then Limbaugh’s comments would give one cause to consider his departure from such a position. The reality is, Limbaugh’s comments have produced the exact opposite effect on McNabb, transforming him into a very sympathetic figure.
In the final analysis, if a person can be fired for saying something someone doesn’t like then we really don’t have free speech (the notable exception being that which disrupts the workplace, etc). Additionally, if a white man can’t make a legitimate (although in this case entirely unwarranted) criticism of someone who is not white without always being accused of racism, then we don’t have free speech either. That’s the true injustice.
Scott Wacholtz can be reached at