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UF silences Brandon Spikes' political voice

GAINESVILLE -- Beginning this blog today with something that might slightly annoy those among us who have a stake in the First Amendment.

UF linebacker Brandon Spikes has been outspoken about his political interests. In recent weeks, Spikes has worn T-shirts advertising one of the large-party Presidential candidates. On Tuesday evening following the Gators' practice, Spikes was asked why he supports that candidate. Spikes' political voice was silenced by the University of Florida.

He replied "I can't really comment on that" to the initial question and when asked if UF instructed him to do so, Spikes said yes.

No big deal, right? Spikes is just a college football player, right? He's just supposed to play football, make millions for UF and keep his mouth shut, right?

Well, if you believe college football is something more than just a business then it is certainly wrong. Why would UF instruct Spikes to refrain from giving his opinion? I'll let you guys answer that question. But in muzzling Spikes, UF has set an unfair double standard. UF quarterback Tim Tebow has been using his fame and his First Amendment rights for several years.

SPIKES: STOPPING THE RUN IS KEY
While Spikes has been instructed by UF coach Urban Meyer to not speak about Georgia or UGA running back Knowshon Moreno, Spikes did say on Tuesday that stopping the run is the key to the game, in UF's opinion.
"I think if we play great up front, we're going to win this ballgame," Spikes said.

MEYER: UF 'BETTER PREPARED'
On Wednesday, Meyer said that Florida is better prepared for Georgia this season than in 2007. UGA beat UF 42-30 last season.

"LSU up to date was our biggest [challenge] and our guys answered that," Meyer said. "We've got a better group this year. From try hard to play hard to guys on the field, we feel better prepared this year."

STAFFORD IMPRESSED WITH UF SECONDARY
UF's secondary is currently ranked first in the SEC in passing efficiency, holding opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 56 percent. UGA quarterback Matt Stafford has taken notice.

"They're playing well," Stafford said. "They're doing a good job of getting after the passer, which always helps. They're just playing well within their scheme and letting their guys make plays."

Stafford completed 11-of-18 throws against UF in 2007 for three touchdowns. He threw one interception and was sacked one time.

MORENO'S RESURGENCE
Against Alabama, UGA running back Knowshon Moreno rushed for just 34 yards on nine carries. In the three games since then (Tennessee, Vanderbilt and LSU) Moreno has exploded for an average of 145.3 yards on 23.7 carries. During Wednesday's teleconference with Stafford, I asked the quarterback about the difference between Moreno now compared to the beginning of the season.

"Wow. I think the biggest difference for him is our offensive line," Stafford said. "We settled on a group of guys that are really doing a good job of opening holes and just getting the job done for him. I don't know if his running style has changed or anything like that. I just think it's the experience around him."

-jo-

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This is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS.

You said it, jo, this is a First Amendment issue.

People (like Urban Meyer) always say these are student-athletes, pointing out that "student" comes first before "athlete."

Well a "student" is not just someone who goes to classes and gets good grades. Universities are notorious for being places where free speech and free thinking can go on without prejudice or censorship.

Anyone that has lived or gone to school in Gainesville knows this by just walking through the Reitz Union or, even better, Turlington Plaza.

jo, you hit this on the head. Why is Tebow allowed to run around praising Jesus, preaching to churches and talking about John McCain while Spikes is told not to discuss politics?

In fact, didn't Urban Meyer say how HAPPY he was that his team was engaged in political discussion and that it was important for them to do so as young men? (I'm not putting this on Urban, I'm sure it was the athletic department that brought this down.)

Completely unacceptable. Spikes is entitled to his opinion and speech just as much as any and if a reporter asks about it, he has the right to answer honestly without persecution or punishment.

jo, I'd really like you to ask Urban about this if he has a presser prior to leaving for Jacksonville. Thanks for posting this.

Reporter: Brandon, over here. How do you respond to published reports that Joseph Goodman is engaged in an anti-gator conspiracy?

Spikes: No comment !

Reporter: So you don't disagree with reports stating that JOSEPH GOODMAN is responsible for all the strife in the world including the recent economic meltdown?

Spikes: No comment !

Reporter: There's a rumor on the intertubes that Goody has been providing Mark Richt with some of the Gators offensive sets. Care to respond?

Spikes: No comment ! I'll take one more question.

Reporter: One of my sources tells me that you were hushed by Jo goodman with bribes. I'm told that he's been supplying you with Krispy Kremes daily. Is this true?

Spikes: That's absurd. I only run on Dunkin. Go Gators !


I think you just dodged a bullet Mr. Goodman.

I really like your reporting, but this seems like another manufactured controversy. Brandon Spikes is a citizen and can do whatever he likes. Some people probably told him "look, Brandon, there's one more week before the election and everyone's emotions are heated about it and the big game Saturday. Its probably best that you not let those two streams of emotion run together. For the sake of keeping the team feeling like a team going into Saturday, would you refrain from talking about politics to the press when you're doing football stuff?"

That's a totally reasonable request. Its also one that Spikes could have ignored. He didn't. His choice.

But I'm glad he did. Its just like a wedding I'm going to on Sunday. It will be a mixed crowd of rabid Repubs and Dems. I love a heated political discussion, but I'm not going to bring it up at the reception right when I'm trying to build a relationship with the people I'm around. I'll save that for the bar when we go out later, or for once they already feel like family.

While at football practice, just like at this reception, Spikes is having to balance two uber-heated passions: Gators and Obama. If he mixes them up, he risks being distracted and distracting his teammates.

That said, he has the right to do whatever he wants.

Uh, yeah, hi. For those of you that apparently failed American Politics in high school, this is not a First Amendment issue. UF didn't revoke Spikes' right to speak on the election -- he's not going to jail if he voices his opinion. They instructed him not to. He has every right to disregard that instruction and say whatever it is he wishes to say. Likewise, UF has every right to bench, suspend, cut, and/or revoke the scholarship of a student-athlete that is disregarding the school's instruction, alienating fans, or in other ways displeasing the interests of the team or school as a whole.

UF doesn't want to be associated with the strongly held political beliefs of an athlete in the midst of a divisive presidential election? They have every right to tell that football player to shut up about it. Now why don't they tell Tebow to shut up? Because this is America; Jesus and the Bible are not highly contentious issues. Even non-Christians find Tebow's faith and community service endearing. Sorry if you don't like it, but Jesus's approval ratings will be a lot higher than Obama's for the foreseeable future. Unless you're watching MSNBC.

RIDICULOUS!

You have the right to be outspoken about your political opinion!

Urban Meyers is paid million to coach and lie to recruits but a player who isn't getting paid(?) can't support his presidential candidate in public. I'm shocked!

This is class less of Urban Meyer and the University of Florida!

Not that it matters...but Bernie Machen endorsed John McCain a long time ago.

Josh,

No one said Spikes' First Amendment rights have been violated but if a public university influences your freedom of speech, then it is definitely a First Amendment issue and a possible breach of Spikes' civil rights.

-jo-

Coke,

Almost certain that Urban Meyer had nothing to do with it.

-jo-

100% right jo!

It certainly is a First Amendment issue.

And you don't think the Bible and Jesus are highly contentious issues? Perhaps they are not at the top of people's tongues right now, but many would prefer athletes to stick to sports and not try to branch out in other arenas, whether politics, religion, etc.

And CokeCanes (or fake CokeCanes) Urban isn't responsible for this. It is the athletic department or the university's PR office.

I think Josh is mostly right, though it would be totally different if Spikes said that the university asked him not to do other things for the campaign, apart from football practice interviews with the press, etc. If he declined to volunteer with the campaign, for example, because the university might take away his scholarship, that would be absolutely wrong. I don't know for certain if it would be illegal, but it most certainly would be "wrong".

Why would UF instruct Spikes to refrain from giving his opinion?

-jo-

Look at our fan base people! Bitter, angry, mostly white people trying to hold on to a powerbase that is being eroded by the 21st century!

What's next, African American pledges at ATO?????

If Barrack is elected and raises our taxes, we might have to give up the motor home, AND our vacation home! And for what??? So my neighbor, who did not go to college, can have health care for himself AND his family!!

The end is truly near!

Go Gators!!

"but if a public university influences your freedom of speech, then it is definitely a First Amendment issue and a possible breach of Spikes' civil rights"

No, it still isn't. Spikes does not have a natural right to start at middle linebacker for the Florida Gators. He doesn't have a natural right to a scholarship. He is only having his freedom of speech "influenced" insofar as the university is able to revoke some or all of the many privileges granted him by the school and football program -- privileges dependent upon his continued appreciation for school and program instruction and image. If the school does not like the manner in which Spikes is representing the university, they have every right to minimize or sever that connection.

And Adam, sure, I would prefer athletes be seen and not heard. I couldn't care less what Brandon Spikes thinks about politics, or even what Tebow thinks about religion. They're football players -- not intellectual giants. But this is a matter that neither you, nor I, nor Joe, nor anyone else have the right to dictate to the University. Apparently they are content with Tebow's ideology and they believe he reflects well upon the program. It'd be hard to find many differing opinions. However, they clearly do not feel the same way about Spikes' political views. That is their right -- to make that decision. If Spikes really doesn't like it, and the University doesn't budge, then he can take out student loans like everyone else and bypass the whole football thing. That might sound harsh -- and it's intentionally overstated -- but those are his "rights".

>

Josh, I totally see your point. But if you are told to curb your speech with the "threat" of action taken against you such as revoking a scholarship, playing time, etc. it is a First Amendment ISSUE. I'm not saying it is a *violation*, but it is an issue regarding his freedom of speech. Certainly something that warrants questioning.

>

As an alumnus I am not trying to dictate anything to them. I'm not writing letters or boycotting UF football. But as Americans we are all entitled to our opinions on the issue. And on this issue, I believe them not allowing Spikes to speak is an First Amendment issue.

>

And endorsing Obama does not reflect well on the program? If so, that means they're choosing sides. (Just playing Devil's Advocate.)

Like daygator said...I'm not saying it is illegal. I'm just saying it's wrong.

Josh,

Nice opinion but I disagree. While Spikes doesn't have a "right" to start at middle linebacker, he certainly does have rights. If Rhodes scholars were instructed by UF to not voice their political voices, then UF could be justified in revoking their scolarships if they did otherwise? No.

-jo-

"And endorsing Obama does not reflect well on the program? If so, that means they're choosing sides. (Just playing Devil's Advocate.)"

Not necessarily. They might feel the same way about being outspoken for McCain. The fact is, when it comes to politics, about 40% or so are going to disagree with you no matter what your opinion is. For a football program, those aren't good numbers. People feel too strongly about politics. If one of your star players is strongly endorsing a politician, to the point where he's openly discussing individual political issues, you risk alienating significant portions of your fan-base. And that hurts the program and the school. Beyond that, political discussions are a slippery slope. What happens when one of your players is a white supremacist, or something equally ignorant? Do you want them giving interviews talking about the good ole days of segregation? No. Of course not. And nobody would be shedding a tear for their freedom of speech. But legally speaking, they have the same right to their opinion -- and the same right to express it -- as Spikes.

And Jo, the Rhodes Scholar discussion is completely different. Rhodes scholars aren't a part of a multi-million dollar program within a multi-billion dollar conference. They're not being granted a national audience by their mere association with the university.

Rhodes scholars are students on scholarships just like football players. We're talking about a public university here not a Fortune 500 company.

-jo-

Well said Josh. I don't think the University wants to strip him of his beliefs. I'd be okay with a student/athlete saying who they prefer for president but I certainly don't want to hear them going into detail about why. I do think that they don't want a scholarship athlete opening that can of worms as this is a highly charged issue. It's really a question of public decorum more than anything in my opinion.

I agree with jo on the Rhodes Scholars point.

Josh, you make a good argument, but I disagree. I know you were just using an example, but political thoughts are different from being racist, sexist, etc. Nothing Spikes had said up to this point was offensive or out-of-line or anything different than Tebow or any of the McCain supporters had said. For all we know, UF imposed the same thing on Tebow about McCain...but we don't know that right now...

13-1, your point makes sense as well. But when Urban Meyer comes out in a press conference and says he SUPPORTS the political conversations his players are having and thinks it is a positive, the university is sending different messages.

Above football, UF is an academic institution of higher learning. And political opinions as well as the First Amendment should be upheld at that level without persecution.

Very true Adam. I bet Urban would not say those things again. Josh states very clearly how 1st amendment rights don't give you the right to say anything anytime. Clearly a Juris Doctor speaking. Excellent argument counselor.

Certainly, Josh makes great points. Not taking anything away from his opinions.

Changing the subject back to football here. I've learned through multiple sources that there's a pretty big college football game being played in Jacksonville this weekend. This week I've been asking players and coaches about the importance of motivation and momentum as it relates to winning football games. I'll pose the same question to you guys: How important is momentum and motivation in college football?

Here are a few examples of answers I've received this week:

Joe Haden, UF cornerback: "That’s one thing you definitely need, it’s momentum. People thrive off that. For some reason it makes you play better. It’s like another player out there almost.”

Tim Tebow, UF quarterback: "Motivation, intensity, passion —- those things are so critical for a football game. You can’t even really explain it —- I can’t explain it —- because it just has so much to do with it. The mentality that everyone has —- it just makes you play better, it makes you play harder, it makes the other team play on their heels, play back, play nervous. It has so much to do with it.

“In college, when you have all 11 guys —- because there are so many great players out on the field -— when you have [momentum] it really gives you a big edge.”

-jo-

"For some reason [momentum] makes you play better?" Um, Mr. Haden...that's why it is called MOMENTUM in the first place!

How important is momentum and motivation in college football?
Very tough to classify these things as they are subjective topics.

What is "momentum?" Lets say you're on a 5 game winning streak. If opposing qb's commit 6 turnovers in all five of those games does the win streak have momentum. I think momentum needs to be defined clearly. I define it as having different factors come together to create success. You need athleticism, leadership, execution, intelligence, on and on. Under that definition I would definitely say UF has some momentum. They are certainly playing well as a unit.

Motivation is tricky because an external force that you might think is motivating can quickly be lost. Circumstances can change and something that you draw motivation from can evaporate. It's for these reasons that I believe that motivation comes primarily from within. Specifically, goals that you set for yourself or your team can motivate you far more than some external factor such as douche bags dancing in your end zone. Reaching personal/team goals that you set is far more motivating than being motivated to get back at some clowns who go in your end zone and act like they've never been there before. It's internal versus external in this discussion. As a competitive amateur athlete myself, I know that the challenges I set for myself are a much stronger impetus for me to succeed than challenges that are presented by competition. My point is that I don't think goofy behavior by the other guys is something that truly motivates a person. It comes from within.

I think Meyer is driving home to these guys that their motivation for Saturday is to win the game, and win the east. That has nothing to do with UGA's past antics. It really doesn't. It has to do with matching up with the team that UGAG fields on 11/1. Meyers approach isn't some cooked up approach. It's a mature attitude that ultimately will be more successful.

Go Gators !

Wow! Great post. I still think Meyer does plenty of cooking, though. He's like a bbq specialist. Cook that meat!

-jo-

GOODMAN, THINK BACK TO THE TIME WHEN YOU WERE IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AND THE TEACHER ASKED YOU WHAT YOU WANTED TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP... WELL..... I GUESS YOU CAME UP A BIT SHORT!!! YOU ARE A COWARD!! A BUM!!! SCUM!!!! SERIOSULY YOU ARE A LOSER IN THE GAME OF LIFE... I FEEL BAD FOR YOUR PARENTS!! YOU WILL DO ANYTHING TO CREATE A STORY, EVEN IF THERE IS NO STORY. GOODMAN, LOOK IN A MIRROR, YOU'RE A JOKE, AND I SPEAK FOR MOST PEOPLE WHEN I SAY "YOU ARE A SPINELESS PIECE OF SH1T"!!!!

I'm a joke? True story: In fifth grade, I told my teacher I wanted to be a comedian. So, I guess it all worked out in the end.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGzxe6l1rY4

-jo-

Not that you are reflecting your own shortcomings or anything like that Joseph.

Killing the messenger solves nothing Joseph.

Lighten up Francis.

Hatred is the coward's revenge for being intimidated.
-George Bernard Shaw

LOL Jo! Hilarious link. He now hates you even more. If that's possible.

Jo,
Here we go again. Just like the whole Spurrier thing with the new Gateway months ago (the trophy was right beside the others). Anything to get a few extra readers and hits huh. Sure feels manufactured again.

So here is a moral question for you Jo. Which is worse, UF keeping its team focused and out of the many times negative, intense, angry political discussions (this week especially) or having a reporter trying to make something that is not (saying Tebow had special treatment) just to make himself hopefully more successful with extra discussion and hits on his web page? How about I let you answer the question.

You know Tebow chose not to endorse a candidate when given a chance (there were many chances this summer according to him.) How confident are you that he was asked not to go there by the administration of UF. I don't know the answer and I doubt you do. Either way statements like this will only cause you further distrust by your readers.

Again, just like the Spurrier thing. You are trying too hard and eventually you are going to go to far.

Gatormaniac,

First, thank you for the thoughtful comment.

But apparently you didn't read the post and are only responded to the post after reading something on Gatorbait or GatorCountry. (Those guys are huge fans of this blog, as I'm sure you know.) I never wrote anything about Tebow and politics. So, no, I don't think readers mistrust my information. My readers are smart and just assume you didn't read the post.

In response to your question about morals: The first tenet in the mission statement of The Miami Herald is "watchdog journalism." Defend the republic, my friend.

As for the Spurrier thing, in case some new readers aren't aware, I wrote a blog post about Spurrier's trophy not being included in the Gators' new football museum. I was wrong. It was in there, located in the corner of the museum. I corrected the post and made it absolutely clear that it was a mistake. I just didn't see the trophy the first time through the museum. The Spurrier blog post should have been about Spurrier being portrayed as side note in the museum when, in reality, he is the Ultimate Gator. No offense to the current tenants of that building.

-jo-

I mean talk about POSs. Journalists, while striving to be perfect, are still human. Humans are not perfect. People make mistakes. I was not around for the Spurrier trophy story, but if a correction is made then it is all well and good. It's not like jo accused someone of murder or rape.

Now, back to your two guys' problems with this post. I can sort of see what you are complaining about...but not really. Spikes was asked by ANOTHER reporter, not jo, about the election and then a follow-up question was posed if it was UF that mandated he not respond. He answered yes.

That's newsworthy. Like it or not.

Now should jo have made it a blurb in his post rather than the main topic? Perhaps. But even though you may disagree with his reporting of it, his job is to report the news and a First Amendment issue, especially when we are LESS THAN A WEEK away from the election, is worth reporting. It's not like this happened six months ago.

He's the author of this blog, not you. I disagree with some of the stuff he posts and have told him so. But there is constructive criticism and then there is bashing. He chooses the content and you have a CHOICE of whether or not to read it. Like they say in Glengary Glen Ross..."If you don't like it, leave!"

That is all.

I think they are doing this to avoid another Joakim Noah situation (he was very outspoken politically) as it becomes a distraction for the team and puts the focus on one player...not that Spikes doesnt enjoy it because we all know he does.

Everyone knows Spikes is endorsing Obama as he has said so numerous times before. I mean, just looking at it racially, african-americans overwhelmingly vote democratic...like more than 90%. So what are the chances they will vote democratic when the candidate is african-american? Why even ask when you know the answer? To stir something up? Nah, how many journalist do we know that like to stir up trouble?

Jay,

Just to make sure everyone realizes this: I didn't ask Spikes about Sen. Obama. I only became interested when Spikes said he was told not speak about it. In a previous blog post I did write about Gators' leaders being split on the Presidential candidates. And in that post I made sure that both Presidential candidates were equally recognized. Tebow, Estopinan and Trautwein for one candidate. Spikes, William Green and Moses Jenkins for another.

-jo-

exactly, jo.

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