I wrote my first Legal Business column in 1997. Except for a short foray into local politics in the late 90s, I have been writing this column continuously now for more than 23 years. But before I started typing out my thoughts on legal issues, I was a sportswriter at this newspaper.
In the early nineties I used to cover local high school sports. You may notice that many of my columns are about sports and law because I have always loved writing about sports. Back then when I would type my stories into one of the computers in the newsroom on Meadow Street, there was a talented writer sitting a few desks over from me by the name of Adrian Wojnarowski.
I knew then that the kid was going places. We were lucky to have him writing about local sports for the few years he was here. He was a great writer.
You may have heard of him. He is the go-to source of NBA news these days and works for a local media company in Bristol. They call him “Woj.”
Anyway, Woj got himself into an unfortunate bind last week in a way that lots of folks get themselves into unfortunate binds these days. He got sucked into the latest storm of divisiveness and decided to speak out about a matter of social importance. He did it in a way that even he acknowledges is unbecoming.
We all do it, though. We all get passionate about issues that matter to us, and in this day of type, click, send, we often don’t have time to think about our message fully before the ether carries the message to the intended recipient.
Anyway, Woj had gotten riled by a message from Missouri Senator Josh Hawley who had written a letter to Adam Silver, the NBA Commissioner, wondering why the NBA was allowing some social justice messages like “Black Lives Matter” to be worn on uniforms, but not allowing others like “Blue Lives Matter.”
This kind of letter from the Senator was intended to inflame passions and create divisions. And it did.
And let me say this: I think that if the NBA is going to allow its uniforms to bear social justice messages, then it should allow messages of support for other aspects of society too. Restricting content is a bad idea if we want all voices to be heard.
So the Senator’s question was a good one. But it was likely intended to cause an uproar rather than to gain message equality.
In any event, Woj took the bait. He sent a two-word message to the Senator via ESPN email according to reports. The two words rhymed with “duck goo.”
Now, Woj is in the duck goo. The Senator promptly went to Twitter to criticize Woj’s employer. And last Sunday, Woj was suspended by ESPN according to reports.
But the question is, should Woj have been suspended, and was the suspension legal? In Connecticut, employees have the right to speak out on matters of public concern, and they may not be disciplined for that speech.
If however the speech “substantially or materially interferes with the employee’s bona fide job performance or the working relationship between the employee and the employer,” then he may be disciplined.
The question is whether or not Woj’s two-word response to the Senator substantially interfered with his working relationship with ESPN. I suspect it didn’t, and that is probably why he still has a job.