Boston Mayor Bans Sports Sedition: Walsh Prohibits Any Negative Talk About the Olympics By City Employees

Marty_Walsh220px-US_Navy_031029-N-6236G-001_A_painting_of_President_John_Adams_(1735-1826),_2nd_president_of_the_United_States,_by_Asher_B._Durand_(1767-1845)-cropThis month I wrote a column for the Washington Post on the crackdown of free speech in France and we have previously discussed the decline of free speech values in the West. (here and here and here). This has included attacks in the United States (here and here and here and here). Now, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has prepared his city for its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics by effectively suspending free speech for city employees and banning them from uttering any negative comments about the Games or the process. I suppose Walsh can cite John Adams’ infamous use of the Alien and Sedition Acts as precedent.

The agreement with the United States Olympic Committee prohibits city workers from making written or verbal statements that “reflect unfavorably upon, denigrate or disparage, or are detrimental to the reputation” of the International Olympic Committee, the United States Olympic Committee or the Olympic Games. That should make many Olympic members like Iran, China, and North Korea feel right at home. Chairman Walsh’s little speech code tells employees that they “shall each promote” the city’s bid “in a positive manner.”

The language chosen bears striking resemblance to the language of the Sedition Act banning anyone from “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States.” Substitute the Olympics and you have basically the same standard.

Weirdly, Walsh’s office says that by prohibiting speech “Mayor Walsh is not looking to limit the free speech of his employees and, as residents of Boston, he fully supports them participating in the community process.” So long as they do not say anything negative. That could not be more clear, right?

It is also good to see the USOC representing our values so well formally curtailing speech as a condition for a bid like a guarantee of roads and infrastructure. Indeed the Olympic Committee could accurately be described as displaying “ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice.” However, those words got Vermont Rep. Matthew Lyon jailed in 1800 under the Sedition Act.

I honestly do not know why Boston would want the games. The Olympic stadium itself would be built on parcel of open land but then broken down after the games. These games have tended to bankrupt or financially strain cities. I love Boston and I would hate to see it lose its charm under the onslaught of the games.

Employees are commonly under speech codes generally to guarantee that their statements do not interfere with city business. However, the inclusion of a speech code for games in Boston would have Thomas Paine spinning in his grave. It is also unnecessary since current rules give supervisors ample leeway in encouraging employees not to undermine city policies or bids.

Source: NY Times

26 thoughts on “Boston Mayor Bans Sports Sedition: Walsh Prohibits Any Negative Talk About the Olympics By City Employees”

  1. We seem to be getting over powerful. A nicely worded request about (this is our city, we want to look good, bring problems to management, we have established a number to call if you are concerned about anonymity, we encourage any input to make the games better, protecting taxpayer money is always our job). Did I get enough in there?

    Employes respond better to being spoken to respectfully. And hearing why you have these concerns. Always ask for feedback. And always say thank you.

    It’s a team effort, Boston, get yourselves together. I don’t live there, but wish you well.

  2. Written or Verbal?

    Time to make some abstract paintings, music, and dance to criticise the Olympics then.

  3. Presumably the gag order also applies to any aspect of the application, including the promise to gag the city employees.

  4. As for the point of this post, I can’t believe an agreement like this could be legal. These are public employees. I hope there’s a challenge so we can hash this out.

  5. what planners called “one of the cleanest urban harbors in the world”
    That got a guffaw, though it’s certainly cleaner than it used to be. I wonder why the Charles doesn’t make the grade for rowing?
    If I lived in Boston, no way would I want this without some significant bribes — I mean carrots. But losing its charm? Maybe temporarily, but some upgrades to the existing infrastructure would be welcome for sure.

  6. I wonder if the city employees can voice their concern under whistleblower protection laws.

  7. Isaac, I saw John Oliver’s hilarious and spot on piece on FIFA. I stand corrected, sir. Oliver was just in Madison and I would have loved to see him live. He is pretty liberal and I’m sure was in his element in my part time home. Oliver was more even handed on The Daily Show, making me think he was a bit constrained, letting his freak flag fly on HBO. But, he is smart, funny, and occasionally even handed. I can abide that.

  8. Paul, Great point. That was Peter Ueberroth’s Olympics. Based on that performance he was hired as Commish of MLB. He was unceremoniously shown the door when he had the temerity to say all new MLB stadiums should be built by the owners, not the public. It was after they got rid of him, w/ a very short tenure of Giammati/Fay, that the glad handing Court Jester, Bud Selig was plopped into the Commish seat. He got new stadiums built w/ taxpayers money that would make a Chicago pol blush.

  9. Nick

    Try FIFA, nothing beats giving the World Cup to a sandbox in the desert. No team, no problem, we’ll import Africans and make them citizens. No facilities, no problem, how much will it cost? No problem. How much do you guys want? No problem. The Olympic Committee at least includes some basis for credibility. Giving the World Cup to Qatar has no credibility whatsoever, only money. Someone should trace the prices of oil contracts for a few years to see if this decision is reflected in the prices European nations will receive or it could just be thousands of designer suitcases stuffed with cash.

  10. Olly, My brother married into a family of Boston construction workers. They saw the criminal bribes, incompetence and construction malpractice up close and personal working the Big Dig. Their stories were black comedy material.

  11. The Olympic Committee is maybe the most corrupt organization in the world, beating out the UN.

  12. HBO did a very good piece on the financial toll on cities that put on an Olympics. What makes it enticing are the bribes and graft politicians and the Committee generate and receive. The public gets anally intruded and pols and big construction companies get rich. There are huge Olympic stadiums sitting vacant and decaying all around the world. The Winter are not quite as bad as the summer. I was in Isaac’s beloved Vancouver in the run up to their Winter Olympics. I had the misfortune of driving to Whistler during a massive road construction project. They were improving the route to Whistler from Vancouver since all the skiing events were in that beautiful mountain town.

    1. Nick – I think the last Olympics to make a profit or break even was LA in 1984. However, they reused stadiums from the previous Olympics.

  13. The erosion of free speech in the US should be front and center on our radar. We need to nip this in the bud, by lawsuit if necessary, or one day the speech that gets limited may be our own.

  14. Evidently there is enough grumbling that it has become an issue, hence the Sedition Act. I know that you can limit public speech by public employees, but I am not sure that this is legal.

    Personally, I think Washington DC should hold the games. It is already a circus there.

  15. If you look closely this goes on all the time. If you criticize someone or a company you work for, you are most likely out on your keester. If you criticize or are not a ‘team player’ in most situation, you are out.

    It is probably the easiest and first thing to do, criticize. Firstly, from a distance just about anything shows its flaws, either existing or potential. Secondly given that almost all people and especially those working in government are in reality insignificant yet close enough to the action to see flaws and most people wish to be significant, arm chair quarterbacks abound.

    Yet, there is this freedom of speech thing. Encouraging those that belong to a specific and significant group, in this case the government workers, to get on board with an idea is one thing. Penalizing them for speaking their mind is a vastly larger issue. Unfortunately the issue will not be decided until the Mayor penalizes someone for speaking their mind.

    Regarding Boston and the games, I agree it could be a mess and Boston doesn’t need the infrastructure nor the attention. Lots of people within easy commute though.

  16. He might try to silence the employees but he cannot silence their unions, or guilds.

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