With no firm policy in place, confiscating sign at UConn game is troubling

News item: XL Center security personnel confiscated UConn graduate Peter Satonick's "Fire Ollie" sign Saturday before the men's basketball game against Villanova.

The XL Center's policy prohibits "inappropriate" signage, but gets no more specific, thus making what's deemed "inappropriate" subjective. UConn has no policy against signage, despite conjecture to the contrary.

"We have no real policy. It's subjective, on a case-by-case basis," Pat McKenna, the university's associate director of athletics for athletic communications said earlier this week. "Anything that would take away from a positive game day experience is something we'd look at."

Does anyone else find the confiscation of Mr. Satonick's sign troubling?

Perhaps it's today's political climate that empowers intolerance for conflicting ideas. Perhaps it's a journalist's proclivity to encourage civil discourse because it's only the very foundation of the whole country.

I mean, isn't civil discourse what separates us from the others?

Sometimes I wonder whether the framers, if they knew we'd one day so decidedly diminish their diligence, would have considered throwing themselves into Boston Harbor instead of the tea.

Mr. Satonick's sign may be viewed as equal parts grandstanding and odious, a pathetic attempt at his Warholian 15 minutes. But where does it not adhere to the precepts of civil discourse?

A UConn fan posted the following to "The Boneyard," a message board of passionate fans, addressing this topic more eloquently than I could:

"People carry signs protesting presidents, suggesting they be impeached. We're not calling for the head of a machinist making ends meet for his family in the private sector," wrote "UConnPhil2016." "(Ollie) is the state's highest paid employee. Saying 'Fire Ollie' is civil discourse. That isn't calling him names or being threatening. It's stating an opinion pretty respectfully and in a strategic way that generates publicity. Saying he should be fired says nothing about what anyone thinks of (Ollie) as a person."

"UConnPhil2016" should go to the window and collect. Spot on. His words should give UConn and XL Center officials pause next time they consider confiscating a sign. It was not racist, sexist or vulgar.

We must be judicious enough to separate our feelings about the sign's author and his motivation. This is not about Mr. Satonick. This is about his right to express an opinion and the method he chose to do so.

Full disclosure: I don't like the idea of glibly calling for a person's job. OK, so Ollie wouldn't need a telethon if he gets fired. But it's still a man's livelihood. And the livelihoods of his staff. Signs like this often reek of narcissism. That said, we must remember the immortal words of Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it."

Isn't that what we do here in the good ol' U.S. of A?

This story is not about Kevin Ollie's coaching acumen. It's about whether XL Center security, complicit with UConn, acted appropriately by confiscating a two-word sign. This story is about whether we're becoming a country that actually encourages submission of individual conscience instead of allowing the exchange of ideas.

I get that a "Fire Ollie" sign isn't necessarily good for business. I get that it's idealistic to think that anybody now will think about individual rights before their own bottom line. But with an entirely subjective signage policy in place, I'd caution UConn officials to think before they act next time.

I also wonder: What's being taught in civics classes on campus? My guess is that college campuses are havens for civil discourse. Except when it's applied, apparently. That reeks of hypocrisy.

UConn officials either need to construct a signage policy with more specifics or duck into the nearest civics class. Peter Satonick was within his right to sport his particular sign. That's what we do here.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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