...a team of women who represented the United States at the world bridge championships in Shanghai last month is facing sanctions, including a yearlong ban from competition, for a spur-of-the-moment protest.
At issue is a crudely lettered sign, scribbled on the back of a menu, that was held up at an awards dinner and read, “We did not vote for Bush.”
By e-mail, angry bridge players have accused the women of “treason” and “sedition.”
“This isn’t a free-speech issue,” said Jan Martel, president of the United States Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that selects teams for international tournaments. “There isn’t any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them."Not so, said Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist. “If the U.S.B.F. wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition,” he said by e-mail.
Ms. Martel said the action by the team, which had won the Venice Cup, the women’s title, at the Shanghai event, could cost the federation corporate sponsors.
The players have been stunned by the reaction to what they saw as a spontaneous gesture, “a moment of levity,” said Gail Greenberg, the team’s nonplaying captain and winner of 11 world championships.
“What we were trying to say, not to Americans but to our friends from other countries, was that we understand that they are questioning and critical of what our country is doing these days, and we want you to know that we, too, are critical,” Ms. Greenberg said, stressing that she was speaking for herself and not her six teammates.
I'm no lawyer, but I'd love to know whose opinion is legally accurate, Jan Martel's or Danny Kleinman's. It does seem true that a private, non-profit organization could control the speech of those people who represent the organization, while they are speaking as representatives of the organization (in this context, they clearly would be doing so). On the other hand, Mr. Kleinman's comments ring true - if the organization claims to represent the United States in international competition, can they inhibit free speech?