Hecklers and their Rights

On Wednesday, October 26, 2016 during a 76ers game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook drove down the court and performed an And-1 play at the basket. After Westbrooks lay-up at the basket a fan with floor seats stood up and flipped Westbrook off with both hands. A Philadelphia article recently told the story of the 76ers fan, named Richard Harkaway, being removed from a 76ers game for flipping off Russell Westbrook. As Harkaway was being removed from the game for his behavior, another fan recorded and said “you’re going to be a hero”. Harkaway responded by saying “you like that?” and pumped his fists in the air. Harkaway later stated that Russell Westbrook provoked him referring to his being overweight but Harkaway took full responsibility for his actions. He also states that he felt embarrassed and he apologized to all fans, Sixers Organization, colleagues, and Russell Westbrook for his behavior.

As Americans, we have seen many different cases of heckling at various events. There have been heckling issues at political events in the past, heckling isn’t new nor just for sporting events. New York Times quotes the 1992 Presidential campaign when Bill Clinton’s speech was interrupted by a heckler. The heckler was Bob Rafsky, a member of the AIDS activism group Act Up. Rafsky interrupts Clinton by asking “Are you going to start a war on AIDS or are you going to do nothing?”. Bill Clinton responded to Bob Rafsky and the two continued to exchange views on the topic. This is one of many other heckling incidents that have occurred in the past and over time. If a person can heckle and interrupt a presidential candidate’s speech without getting removed, should the 76ers fan be penalized? I think we need to be more patient and appreciative of hecklers.

As Americans we need to focus more on the big picture. As long as there is no disruption of a game, fans should be allowed to speak their mind at events. Hecklers have become part of the events we pay money to sit and watch. Hecklers are at political and sporting events and comedy performances and it’s almost like they became a tradition in the game. Hecklers are getting treated the same as if they chose to leave the stands and run across the field.

Do hecklers deserve to be removed from the seat they paid for for heckling? I think hecklers shouldn’t be removed, they aren’t delaying the game. Does heckling have a certain limit and should it be put to an end? The thing that should be put to an end are game disrupters. The people that run across the field, court, or stage and delay the event should be removed. At certain events, especially sports, words from a fan shouldn’t put a pause on the game. Serena Williams, a professional tennis player, deals with similar problems. According to the Bleacher Report article about Serena Williams on the cover of Glamour Magazine, “There’s not much an athlete in the spotlight can do other than brush off the hate.” The athletes are there to play the sport, not to jaw back and forth with the fans. The players talk trash to each other all the time and don’t get removed, which is part of the game, so why can’t the fans talk trash too?

For many of us, hearing someone state their opinion and talk bad at an event isn’t anything new. Some of the time we agree with what the person is saying about the event. Then we have the fans that go the extra mile to shout his/her opinion. These are called hecklers who are fans that are very passionate about what they are watching. Hecklers represent what we are to afraid to say at an event. Heckling has become a tradition and part of the game.

Throwing a heckler out the game is like throwing a preacher out the church, something that is never thought of. So why throw a heckler out of the game? Probably because the organization doesn’t agree with the heckler. What the preacher is doing at the church is the same the heckler is doing at the event. No matter what the event is the heckler is preaching thoughts that others wouldn’t say. One of the definitions of preaching is to speak about something in an approving way.

Those who say that hecklers should keep their comments to themselves, or else be removed from the game are wrong. You are removing a fan for exercising the first amendment, which freedom of speech. Speaking your mind isn’t a crime, if you don’t agree with the hecklers point of view then don’t be afraid to express your own.

On this specific incident the Sixers Organization needs to take less action and be more patient when it comes to hecklers. The organizations should remember that the hecklers are still bringing them money by paying to watch the game. Tell the players to just worry about playing the sport. Let the fans speak their mind, it’s part of the game now.

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