Friday, January 19, 2018

Dumb Bill Alert: If Colts Kneel, Spectators Get Refunds!

One of the things that I prepare myself for at the beginning of each new year is the almost inevitable onslaught of stupid bills introduced in the Indiana General Assembly. In past years there have been bills to nullify federal laws, bills to require local sheriffs to arrest federal officials, bills to require that children in public schools say The Lord’s Prayer, and so on and so forth. Usually, these bills don’t become law, but given recent examples like RFRA or the annual attempts to unconstitutionally stop all abortions in the State, it isn’t a guaranty that the stupid (or unconstitutional) bills will be relegated to the trash.

So what is the early contender for dumbest bill of 2018? My vote would be for House Bill 1011.

An Indiana lawmaker is filing legislation that would require the Indianapolis Colts to offer fans refunds if Colts players kneel during the national anthem at home games.

Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, said his bill would allow fans who feel disrespected by the kneeling to ask for a refund during the first quarter.

"To me when they take a knee during the national anthem, it’s not respecting the national anthem or our country," Smith said. "Our government isn’t perfect, but it's still the best country in the world and I think we need to be respectful of it."

Smith and his daughter were attending the Colts' September game against the Cleveland Browns when a group of Colts players decided to kneel along with about 200 other NFL players across the country.

He was offended but stayed at the game.

"I'm pretty patriotic, and it didn't sit right with me," said Smith.

My initial reaction was to laugh. My next reaction was to joke that if spectators are eligible for refunds, it should be because of the poor performance of the Colts this year (leading to the team’s dismal 4-12 record). But then I remind myself that introducing a bill — proposing that something become the law of the State of Indiana — is neither a trivial nor laughing matter. And then I get angry.

First, let’s remember that Republicans claim that they want to disentangle businesses from the government. How often have you heard the mantra that “burdensome regulations” stifle business? Yet here is a Republican legislator seeking to impose potentially massive costs upon a single type of business because he was offended. He wasn’t physically harmed or forced to incur additional costs. Nope. He was offended. Just imagine living in America and having to put up with the idea that someone might have a different viewpoint that you don’t find to be patriotic enough. What kind of country would allow such a thing?

Apparently Rep. Smith (who, by the way, hails from the same city as Vice Pastor President Pence) isn’t offended at African American men and boys being shot by police; after all, he hasn’t introduced legislation to help remedy that problem or to require police departments (and, hence, the state) to better compensate those unjustly killed by police (or even to adjust the method by which we adjudicate whether a police shooting was “justified”). Nope. Dead black dude? Meh. Offended white dude? Refund my money!

So let’s look at the actual text of House Bill 1011 (HB1011):


Chapter 1. Professional Sports Anti-Patriotic Displays

Sec. 1. As used in this chapter, “professional sports athlete” means an individual who receives income for playing a sport from a professional sports team located in Indiana.

Sec. 2. As used in this chapter, “professional sports team” means a team that is part of the: (1) National Basketball Association; (2) National Football League; or (3) Women’s National Basketball Association.

Sec. 3. (a) If a person: (1) purchases a ticket to a game; (2) attends the game; and (3) is offended by a professional sports athlete, who is a member of the professional sports team hosting the game, not standing during the national anthem; the person may seek a full refund of the price of the ticket, stated on the ticket, from the professional sports team, within thirty (30) days of the sporting event. (b) A request for a refund described in subsection (a) must be in writing. (c) If the professional sports team does not refund the price of the ticket described under subsection (a) within seven (7) days of the refund request, the person may file an action in any small claims court within the county where the sporting event occurred, within one (1) year of the date of the sporting event. (d) If the court determines the professional sports team did not timely refund the price of a ticket after a person was offended, as described in subsection (c), and the person made a timely refund request, as described in subsection (a), the court shall award the person: (1) reasonable attorney’s fees; (2) court costs; (3) three (3) times the price of the person’s ticket; and (4) other reasonable expenses.

Let’s start with the actual title of the article and chapter of the Indiana Code that this bill would create: “Anti-Patriotic Displays”. Hmm. I don’t know about you, but the whole idea of a free, democratic society with notions like freedom of speech enshrined in foundational documents suggests that the idea of the government deciding what does and does not qualify as an “anti-patriotic display” seems a bit … troubling? Totalitarian, even? It seems that authoring a blatantly unconstitutional bill that proclaims which activity is unpatriotic is far more unpatriotic than kneeling during the National Anthem. This is probably a good place to remind readers (and certain Republican Indiana legislators, in particular) of what the Indiana Constitution says:

No law shall be passed, restraining the free interchange of thought and opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print, freely, on any subject whatever: but for the abuse of that right, every person shall be responsible.

Indiana Constitution, Article 1, Section 9. Read that again and think about HB1011 and the idea that the Indiana General Assembly would legislate which acts are unpatriotic and then punish a business that did not prevent its employees from “unpatriotic” actions.

Ask yourself further why it is only a failure to stand during the National Anthem that qualifies as unpatriotic? In my post To Kneel or Not to Kneel (November 10, 2017), I outlined a whole host of acts (and products) that violate the United States Flag Code, including displaying the flag horizontally as is done before virtually every Indianapolis Colts game. But that conduct isn’t “unpatriotic” in Rep. Smith’s worldview (or at least not unpatriotic enough to warrant a refund). In other words, conduct that Rep. Smith likes (or, I suppose, opinions with which he agrees) are patriotic but those that he dislikes or which challenge his opinions or demand better from our government are disfavored and, thus, unpatriotic. It’s a good thing that our system of government doesn’t allow people to express unpopular ideas. Oh, wait.

It’s also interesting to note that the bill, if passed, would only apply to the Indianapolis Colts, Indiana Pacers, and Indiana Fever (WNBA team). Oddly, the bill would not apply to the Indianapolis Indians or other minor league baseball teams in Indiana, it wouldn’t apply to the Indy Fuel or other minor league hockey teams in Indiana, and it wouldn’t apply to the Indy Eleven (a minor league soccer team), even though their players are individuals who receive income from playing a sport in Indiana. It wouldn’t apply to a Major League Baseball team that relocated to Indiana. It wouldn’t apply to the Indianapolis 500 or Brickyard 400 (or other races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) even though the drivers are athletes who receive income for driving in the races. And most importantly, it wouldn’t apply to college or high school teams (and let’s face it, scholarship athletes are receiving “income” for playing sports)! In other words, if you get offended at an NFL game (and you were offended for the “right” reason), your delicate sensitivities are worthy of compensation, but if you are offended by the exact same conduct at an Indianapolis Indians game, Indy Eleven match, Notre Dame football game, or Indiana University basketball game, then I guess you’re just being overly sensitive. Or something. Snowflake. Or, perhaps, Rep. Smith doesn’t want the State of Indiana to have to refund tickets; only teams owned by billionaires should have to do that, right? And if you’re offended, but not for the right reason, then your sensitivities still don’t count.

And what if the reason that an athlete did not stand for the National Anthem had nothing to do with protest or patriotism? What if the athlete (who, according to the bill need only be a “member of the professional sports team hosting the game”) doesn’t stand because of injury? The language of the bill doesn’t even require that the athlete kneel or be on the field! The athlete could still be in the locker room or, for that matter, not even at the stadium! If the athlete is a member of the team and is not standing during the National Anthem, then the offended snowflake person has a right to demand a refund. It’s even crazier than that, though. For example, just imagine an athlete who wants to protest but is aware of this law. Were that athlete to hold up a sign during the National Anthem that said, “Fuck the United States” no right to refund would be created. Nope. Putting on a Nazi or KKK armband during the National Anthem wouldn’t create a right to a refund. Flipping off fans or singing the Soviet anthem wouldn’t create a right to a refund. Nope. Just not standing. So what then? Does the Indiana General Assembly outlaw all unpatriotic displays? Oh, and lest I forget, a spectator wouldn’t be entitled to a refund if a coach or water boy or mascot didn’t stand. Nope. Only a professional athlete is obligated to stand. “Unpatriotic” conduct by others is not sufficient unpatriotic, I suppose.

Seems that Rep. Smith believes that the “value” provided for the price of a ticket is the opportunity to see a semi-famous performer sing the National Anthem and watch athletes stand on the sidelines, rather than watching the athletes, you know, actually play the game itself. After all, HB1011 allows a person who has been “offended” to recover the “full refund of the price of the ticket”. Moreover, there is no obligation for the person to have left the game upon being offended. The person can stay, watch the game (which is, of course, what they actually paid to see), and then ask for a refund anyway. What? I ate the whole meal, but I didn’t like it, so give me back my money.

Furthermore, note that if you are given tickets to the game or win the tickets in a contest, they you don’t have the right to seek a refund because you didn’t purchase your ticket. I guess offense is only meaningful to those who pay, right?

Another minor point I find interesting about the language of HB1011 is that it doesn’t seem to require the “offended” person to actually proving that a player did not stand during the National Anthem; rather, the language requires the person to prove that the team did not refund the ticket price within 7 days of the written request. And then, to add insult to … um … being offended, HB1011 not only allows the poor, offended fan to recover not only attorneys’ fees (thus setting up an entire cottage industry for lawyers) but also entitling the snowflake to recover treble damages, something usually reserved for the worst sorts of civil violations (antitrust and racketeering being the prime examples).

Just think of the slippery slope that this bill creates. How long before other types of “offense” lead to the right to seek refund from other sorts of businesses? Offended by the “unpatriotic” message in a movie or book? Demand a refund. The waiting room at the hospital was airing “fake news” CNN instead of an approved national news source like FOX? Demand a refund! The bar served unpatriotic Mexican tequila instead of good ol’ fashioned Kentucky bourbon? Demand a refund! The school taught your child that independent thought was acceptable? Demand a refund!

The good news is that there are enough decent legislators in the Indiana General Assembly, especially in leadership roles, that HB1011 won’t go anywhere. Chances are that it won’t even be heard in committee (it was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, most likely to die a quiet death), let alone get a vote for passage. But the mere fact that a bill that is this blatantly unconstitutional would even be offered is a sign of just how little some members of our elected government understand how our government works and just what ideas like “freedom of speech” really mean. That we have elected officials that can’t see the difference between a democracy with freedom of speech and the forced patriotism of totalitarian societies is frightening. Frightening, but sadly, unsurprising.

Finally, query this: If this bill were to become law, how long before Indiana’s “professional sports teams” would be looking for homes in other states? I know that San Diego, St. Louis, and Oakland are looking for football teams. How offended might Hoosiers be at the economic impact to the city and state just so that Rep. Smith doesn’t have his patriotic feelings hurt?

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At Monday, June 18, 2018 12:49:00 PM , Blogger David Kenyon said...

Does this silly bill allow season ticket holders to get refunds because predominantly old White NFL owners made a business decision to silence predominantly Black players in order to placate predominantly White fans who might believe people of color should "know their place?"

I like that players kneel to bring attention to an ongoing tragedy. I am outraged by NFL owners forcing players to stand.

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