The Place That Allegedly Promotes The Most Free Speech Tolerates So Little Of It

By Jason Keidel
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Jerry Seinfeld, one of the more muted comedians when it comes to politics, made some candid and compelling observations recently. It wasn’t red or blue state stuff, but more red, white, and blue content.

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That’s fitting as we approach America’s birthday.

Seinfeld is worried about the nature of speech, and whether political correctness will hamstring future comedy and comedians, whether the wrong word or even vowel will launch a worldwide rampage on some unsuspecting comic who’s just trying to earn a buck doing one of the hardest things in life — expose your soul, in the dark, to an unseen audience.

If you think about it, stand-up comedy is the opposite of social media. The performer is inspected, profoundly and publicly, his life dissected by strangers.

With social media, you’ve got anonymous gangs sniping at public and sometimes private people, often with no cause or logic. It takes no courage to hide behind handles and ply a twisted form of pop psychology on someone you’ve never met and will never have to, even after vaporizing them online.

Seinfeld is more than a comic, of course. He’s a celebrity, a star whose orbit reaches the highest rungs of privilege. He doesn’t need money or social media, yet the tentacles of the PC Police have even reached his penthouse.

Seinfeld is a regular on WFAN, chopping it up with Steve Somers for years. Another Somers guest, Bob Costas, spent some time on the Twitter barbecue but refused to be burned.

Costas made an inelegant remark about a pitcher, apologized to said pitcher, and then defiantly refused to apologize to millions of people who have never met either man. And, for some reason, this makes Costas a bad guy.

Twitter fancies itself a warm bath of news and information. Just sink yourself into the online tub and absorb the good vibes. If you’ve spent much time on Twitter and other social media, what you really find is an army of angry hermits, who question your character, ancestry, intelligence, and other, unprintable things just because they disagree with your take on a football team.

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in a spiritual sense, Twitter is at war with itself, the tip of the PC spear while harboring some of the most hateful rhetoric we’ve ever heard. It brands itself a bastion of goodies while knowing full well it’s the perfect vessel for the Troll. Many people tell me it’s a fine tool for current events. Now you can tether yourself to LeBron or Kobe or Tom Brady, sans a middle man or publicist. Get the straight dope from the source.

But athletes are more guarded than ever, worried the wrong noun will spawn a rebellion. We beg All-Stars and all stars to be more intimate, then wreck them for it. How many times has an athlete run an eraser over a comment he made 10 minutes earlier, already recoiling from the blowback?

Maybe Derek Jeter had it right. Belch the bromides, speak entirely in platitudes, give the people nothing that can boomerang back to you. There’s no percentage in candor, in exposing your soul to the masses. Just play ball and leave the rest to the restless.

My bosses and editors have never told me what to do or say, yet I’m terrified to swerve outside the lane of sports, my lexicon narrowed to the gristle of clichés. Sports used to bond men, the last enclave where dudes can be dudes, unburdened by etiquette. Now the sports world has joined the growing chorus of online surgeons, ready to slice you into microscopic bits and serve you to the gods.

Social media has set social graces back many years. It’s morphed into a mutation of high school, an online popularity contest, where self-esteem is measured by Facebook friends and Twitter followers. You can decide what it says about a fiefdom of Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga, who are the high counsel and template of Internet dialogue.

There are good online sources, just as there are decent people. The Internet has placed sports on our laps and in our living rooms. About 30 years ago, you had to call a 976 number to get the latest sports scores, for a fee. Now you only need gaze down at your phone or tablet for instant updates.

Those of us who write for a living, or must walk the minefield of social media, are in the position of hurling our stuff into the ether and praying it doesn’t explode on us. Funny how the place that allegedly promotes the most free speech tolerates so little of it.

Perhaps we should all adopt Bill Belichick’s corporate mantra, “We’re on to Cincinnati.” Ohio seems as good as place as any to find relief from the place where discord, not discourse, is the word of the day.

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Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel