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MTSU’s Paulson discusses fans’ free speech rights on ESPN program

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First Amendment scholar Ken Paulson, dean of the MTSU College of Mass Communication, is among panelists discussing the free speech rights of student fans on a recent edition of ESPN’s award-winning “Outside the Lines” investigative news program.

Hosted by veteran sports broadcaster Bob Ley, the program was entitled “The Art of Noise.” The topic was rude and crude chants and language by student fans and whether public universities can limit student speech in an arena or stadium. Student fan groups such as the Missouri Antlers from the University of Missouri are increasingly drawing criticism for creative taunts against opposing teams that some observers say have gone too far.

Paulson, president and CEO of the First Amendment Center and former editor of USA Today, was joined by ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Williams, a former Duke University and professional basketball player, and Darren Hellwege, sports director at KBIA-FM radio who covers University of Missouri Tigers basketball.

While the Missouri Antlers have been kicked out of two games previously for their behavior, Paulson said free speech rights lean in favor of the students participating in such collective taunting.

“I pointed out that while the remarks are often distasteful and deplorable, the First Amendment provides that government bodies — including public universities — can't set rules on what Americans can or can't say,” Paulson said. “We can disagree with that from a policy perspective, but it’s the law.”

 Paulson went on to suggest that universities be creative in their approach to dealing with the issue, including limiting the location and size of signs — but not their content, and not allowing groups of 40 or 50 people to sit together.

Replays of “Outside the Lines” can be seen at 2 p.m. CST Monday through Friday on ESPN. For more information about the program, visit http://espn.go.com

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