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Fan kicked out of Bengals stadium to step up criticism of general manager

By David Hudson
First Amendment Center
12.04.98

The Bengals fan kicked out of Cincinnati's Cinergy Field for displaying a banner critical of the football team's owner-general manager says he plans to intensify his criticism at Sunday's home game against the Buffalo Bills.

Last Sunday, David Devine and two friends were escorted out of the stadium by security guards for unfurling a banner that read "Mike Brown Step Down."

Devine sees this as a clear case of censorship. He said: "As long as a sign is not profane or lewd, it should not be banned from a public forum. Bengals officials allow signs that are positive but not ones that are negative. To me, that is a double standard."

Devine said security guards told him the banner, which he described as approximately 8 feet by 6 feet, was obstructing the view of other patrons. Devine contends that this reasoning is a pretext for censorship.

"No one's view was blocked," he said. "They used that to mask their dislike for my message."

This action at the publicly funded stadium raises free-speech concerns for at least one attorney who specializes in constitutional law.

Scott Greenwood, a Cincinnati-based constitutional-rights attorney, told said: "This sure does raise serious free-speech concerns."

"This was done at a massive publicly funded stadium owned by the county. Under the public-forum doctrine, the stadium could well be considered a limited public forum for First Amendment purposes," Greenwood said.

However, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh says the first requirement to be met for First Amendment purposes is whether there was action by the state. "If the stadium is leased by the Bengals from the county, then there is still no state action unless county officials somehow influenced the Bengals to kick the fans out," he said.

When asked if he plans to continue his public criticism of Brown, Devine answered: "Absolutely."

This Sunday he plans to bring back a banner with the same message, as well as another sign that says "Mike Brown, You Make Us Frown."

In addition, Devine says he is going to try to stage a walkout at halftime and wants to have a helicopter circle the stadium towing another banner saying "Mike Brown, Step Down."

"I do not want to file suit, although I would support someone else who would do so," Devine said. "My main concern, to be frank, is to have a winning football team in Cincinnati."


Related

Buffalo Bills bar fans' signs of frustration

Local official says NFL team, under lease agreement, has complete control over county-owned stadium during games and can set its own rules. 12.30.05

Mich. bill aims to give sports fans more rights to cheer, jeer

Taxpayer-supported stadiums couldn't confiscate signs unless they block other fans' view, contain profanity or pose safety hazard. 09.13.06

6th Circuit allows Indians fan to pursue free-speech claim

'It reaffirms the right of fans in baseball and football to heckle players, which we believe is protected by the First Amendment,' says attorney for fan arrested at game in 2001. 09.18.06

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