Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Censorship Sucks

      Several years ago, vendors outside Safeco Field in Seattle sold "Yankees Suck" T-shirts, which caused a stir inside the stadium. Management of the Mariners baseball team decided that message ran counter to its Family-Friendly Policy, and under threat of expulsion, forced people wearing the shirts to remove them. Some of those people objected, the ACLU entered the fray, and the Mariners finally decided they would "not ask ticket-holders to remove or cover up any T-shirt."

      I'm a Yankee hater from way back in 1949. It fried me, the way the Yankees always stripped the one good player from the Washington Senators or the St. Louis Browns every August, then snatched the pennant, and in the World Series, ran over my Giants or the otherwise-detested Brooklyn Dodgers. As time passed, I gnashed my teeth at George Steinbrenner, who seemed to think that a World Series title was a Yankee birthright, and failure to claim it constituted grounds to sacrifice a manager or a fat toad of a player. And when A-Rod, Seattle's most-despised ex-player, decided that his interests would best be served by pinstripes, I rejoiced. Now, I could hate the Yankees with previously-unimagined passion.

      My daughter bought me a Yankees Suck shirt back in the day, and I've worn it ever since to Mariners-Yankees games. I had it on this past July 8, when an alcohol enforcement officer stopped me on the concourse behind Section 333, and demanded I remove my shirt, then and there. She told me that in accordance with the Mariners' Family-Friendly Policy, I should have been stopped at the gate and refused admittance, and that I would not be allowed to stay in the stadium with the shirt on. Since it was a hot night and I wore nothing under the shirt, she settled to have me strip to the waist and turn the shirt inside-out. Because I did not want to create a public disturbance, I complied, never mind the distress that the sight of my paltry corpus must have caused passers-by.

      During the game, I'd been sitting among groups of Yankee fans. None were offended by the shirt; in fact, they thought it was funny. It served as an icebreaker, and we were all enjoying the game together. When I returned to my seat with my shirt reversed, one of the fans – a man with two small children – asked whether I'd been compelled to turn my shirt inside out. When I said I had, his comment was, “That's ridiculous. He didn't seem to think his kids had been traumatized.

     This is not an earthshaking issue. I know that. Around the world, people are starving, drowning in floods, dying of preventable diseases, being slaughtered individually and wholesale. But as a professional writer, I need to complain about censorship. The actions of the alcohol enforcement officer are insupportable. I'm pretty sure the sentiment expressed on my shirt would get by all three prongs of the Miller Test for Obscenity, but the point seems moot. The expression has long since lost any sexual implication. I see it repeatedly in The Seattle Times and other mainstream publications; I hear it on the radio. If that word, used in that context, can get by the FCC, how can it stick in the throat of Mariners' management?    

     When I told a friend, a much-published writer of books for children, and a winner of many state librarian awards, what had happened to me at Safeco Field, her reaction was, "Unbelievable.   Walk into any elementary school in the country, and you'll hear kids saying that something sucks."      

      I sent a letter to the Mariners' Director of Community Relations, asking that she clarify whether the alcohol-enforcement officer acted on her own initiative, or whether she was in fact following stated company policy. As a long-time 16-game planholder, I thought I was owed that much in courtesy, But more than five weeks later, now, I've heard nothing.

      Local sportswriters have complained in print about the Mariners' overzealous Family Friendly Policy, and I couldn't agree more. One thing to be hassled by drunk and aggressive fans, another to be forced to disrobe so as not to possibly offend someone with an antediluvian acquaintance with American slang. Sorry, Mariners, but censorship sucks.    

      Unfortunately, on the field, unlike another team I could name, the Yankees don't suck. Still, win or lose, the Ms have been my team since 1977, and I'll continue to go regularly to their games, and cheer for them, even during massacres that would've turned ancient Romans pale. I admire Jack Z as a person and as a G.M., and think he's building a team that one day will make it realistic for me to wear a T-shirt saying, "Send 'em back to New York with their pinstriped tails between their legs." I just hope the Safeco Booze Bouncers won't tell me that reference to what's between legs is not Family-Friendly, and pitch me out onto Edgar Martinez Way. 

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