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The wisdom of Honest Abe

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." -- Proverb often attributed to Abraham Lincoln

There have been a few notable things in the media the last couple of days that I think deserve some comment, and I want to start with this Mark Story piece from yesterday.  Story is reporting on the unhappiness some of the parents of recruits and players feel toward Internet commentary.  Dakotah Euton's father was cited as an example, and the offending posts were taken from The Cats' Pause public message board.  Here are a few examples that the elder Euton found distasteful:

Euton is the slowest player on the court ... I hate to say it but he is not ever going to be UK material.

UK should not have offered Euton. I know he is a great kid, but he doesn't have the talent to play at UK.

This is a subject about which there has been long and relatively passionate debate.  One side of the argument is that recruits and players read the message boards, and such comments could conceivably harm our recruiting effort.  The other side of the argument is essentially that the right to say what you want trumps recruiting concerns, and that players, recruits and their parents should know that when they consider coming here or are here, the criticism is just part of the package.

Now, I don't know where most people fall on this and don't really care, but my position is that the anonymity granted by message boards and blogs is often abused as a mechanism to speak words we would never say in public.  That is an ethical problem that cannot really be addressed without also changing the entire nature of Internet fan sites.  So what we have here is an ethical dilemma -- a powerful non-ethical consideration at odds with ethical actions.

This problem could be solved if people would simply stop writing things they would not say to the face of the object of their commentary.  No rational human being would walk up to Euton or his father and make a comment like the above.  It isn't just rude, it is absolutely offensive in the extreme.  Given that, they should never have been made in a public forum, period.  I would delete such comments here and warn their authors, in case you are wondering, because nobody could ever convince me that they would speak such a thing to the person's face, and even if they were capable of doing it, that is not the kind of person I would want making comments.  It's that simple.

The First Amendment is about governments, not private concerns, and private concerns who allow access to public fora should not permit their members to behave unethically, especially when they allow pseudonymity.  I know that such a task can be daunting, especially in a place that has tens of thousands of commenters, but I believe it is their responsibility.  I thank God every day that I almost never have to worry about such behavior on this blog, and it speaks volumes about the quality of our members.  But we are very small compared to some, and it's easy to suggest a solution to a problem you don't have to face.

A counterpoint to that article is this one written by Chris Diggs at the Courier-Journal Wildcats blog.  Chris sees the issues identified in Story's article as indicative of a severe problem, and notes commentary about Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley throughout this season as an example of offensive behavior by fans.

I'm not quite sure how to take Chris' piece.  On the one hand, I agree that we should not "bash" any player, or for that matter, anyone else in the program.  But "bashing" tends to be rather broadly defined, and if that definition is intended to quash legitimate criticism of either a player, coach, or anyone else connected with the program, I respectfully dissent.  Criticism is part and parcel of the fan experience, and criticizing a player's performance or giving opinions, fairly expressed, based on facts that may or may not be accurate but that are not ridiculous on their face is something no legitimate message board or blog should censor.

I also object mildly to the two examples Chris gives of "ignorance."  I heard one and not the other, but if a person thinks Gillispie will be a better coach than Tubby Smith, he is certainly entitled to state that opinion on the call-in show.  It isn't necessarily ignorant, may well turn out to be true, and may well have been intended as a comment on the perceived quality of Gillispie rather than an assault on Smith.  No, I wouldn't say it, but that doesn't make it wrong.  But to be fair, I didn't hear that comment and, absent context, I can't really say whether or not it was fairly expressed.

The other was one I did hear, and although the woman did a poor job of expressing her sentiment, what she was trying to ask the coach was to quit being so simplistic -- it looks condescending to many Kentucky fans who know an awful lot about basketball.  I agree with her, and Gillispie didn't understand what she was saying at all.  It happens.  No form of communication is perfect, and nobody understands that better than a blogger (namely Yours Truly) who sometimes does a really bad job of making his point.

Taken together, these two pieces somewhat represent the nebulous boundaries of discussion here in the Bluegrass.  The real lesson here, I think, is to try to apply a variation of the Golden Rule in our commentary -- "Don't write things on message boards that you wouldn't want written about you," or alternatively, "Don't write anything that you are not willing to sign with your name and address."  At the same time, we cannot and should not squelch legitimate critical commentary, and reworded, neither of the posts that the senior Euton found troubling would have been offensive.  Perhaps another axiom would be "If you don't think you can properly express criticism, then keep it to yourself."  How do we define "legitimate?"  Perhaps I should defer to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when discussing obscenity:
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it . . .
When it comes to offensive commentary, I think we know it when we see it.