COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Fans at Maryland games would have to
watch what they yell under a behavior policy proposed by the
university and backed by the state.
The school can limit offensive chants, signs and clothing at
games while preserving the principle of free speech, Maryland
Assistant Attorney General John Anderson wrote in a March 17 memo.
Anderson was consulted by the school in February.
Maryland fans chanted such vulgarities at Duke's J.J. Redick during a Jan. 21 home game that the Terrapins were flooded with negative publicity.
school began playing a pregame recorded message from coach Gary
Williams that discouraged offensive language. But school officials said they could not control the language without infringing on the fans' First Amendment rights.
Untrue, according to an advisory Anderson sent to the school earlier this month.
The university may "constitutionally adopt a carefully drafted
policy that prohibits offensive speech at Comcast (Center),"
Anderson wrote in a memo first reported by The Washington Times.
"I do not conclude that the First Amendment condemns any such
effort to failure."
The school cannot arrest individuals who violate the policy
since offensive speech is protected under a 1971 Supreme Court
case. But Anderson said it's possible to restrict such language in
cases involving a captive audience.
"While First Amendment law is complex, it does not seem reasonable for the University to be utterly without any means to address a phenomenon that has proved to be upsetting to large numbers of fans. The applicable case law does not, in my view, leave the University powerless," Anderson wrote, according to The Washington Post.
Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow declined comment but has
supported restrictions on vulgar language. The school wants the
policy in place before the first home football game against
Northern Illinois on Sept. 4.
"It's encouraging that we have some flexibility to put in place some additional guidelines to encourage positive fan behavior," said Michael Lipitz, associate athletic director. "Some of the language they were using and apparel that they were wearing was inappropriate, and hopefully, we'll be able to curtail that now."
According to the Post, Lipitz will lead the effort to draft a policy that could include ejecting offenders from the arena or asking fans wearing clothing that bears vulgar messages to change the garments.
"I think there is a misconception that intensity at basketball games is correlated with profanity," said senior David Krieger, who is involved in the effort.
The policy most likely would cover all sports although its stems
from complaints by fans during the men's basketball season.
"I think, while we're very enthusiastic to deal with the issue -- because it needs to be dealt with -- we want to do it in a way that protects our liberties as given to us by the First Amendment," Krieger said. "I think there are some approaches to changing the social environment without infringing on people's rights."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.