That's right, no misprint. Florida football coach Urban Meyer scored one of the greatest victories of his tenure this week for his criticism of league officials following his team's victory over Georgia.
Well, hold on, you say. Didn't he get fined $30,000 for those comments? Doesn't sound like much of a win on the surface. In fact, sounds like the SEC means business when it says it won't tolerate any criticism of its officiating crews.
Ah, but therein lies the victory. If you go back and read Meyer's comments, you will find that his tone was non-combative, he merely stated an opinion regarding protection of quarterbacks and he didn't belabor the point. And he forced the SEC's hand in a way that landed them in a no-win situation, and SEC Commissioner Mike "Slimeball" Slive went right for the bait. He came down with a Stalinistic iron fist and made himself look like even more of an imbecilic jackass than he already is (if that's even possible).
All Slive could do in issuing the fine (which was far more than pro leagues fine players who openly and combatively rant about their refs) was point to some multi-point SEC bylaw (10.6.5 or something crazy like that) and make a legal issue out of it. Doesn't surprise me, seeing as how he, like most sports commissioners, was a lawyer in his former life. Rational thinking apparently escapes him, as do the twin concepts of double standard and spirit of the law (preventing hateful criticism and needless complaining), as simply opposed to the letter of it (opening your mouth at all, especially when you're right). The double standard part remains to be seen, as it is unknown whether Commissioner Slimeball will continue to publicly discipline officials who blow calls.
But either way, Meyer got him cornered, and hopefully raised some real questions concerning how to appropriately respond when issues like this arise. Yes, refs are human and everyone should realize that. But when coaches are right, they are right, and when you fine them for being right, you send the dual message that the truth is not welcome, and not only is it not welcome, but you have the power to act irrespective of it. Talking behind closed doors isn't enough. All it does is lead to good-ol-boy chats and promises that are seldom kept. Public criticism at least keeps people honest. So you have the power? Wow, good for you.
I would even go so far as to sue the SEC over free speech violations. Let me explain for those of you who think the 1st Amendment doesn't apply to the private sector. All schools in the SEC (and most in other conferences) are state schools, subsidized by state and federal money. This means they are under the auspices of our government. They cannot discriminate in determining who goes to school there, or impose draconian measures at their whim. They are, in effect, under the protection of our Constitution, and therefore cannot legally punish people for speaking their mind.
But Meyer is an employee, you say? Hogwash. He's not after anyone's job here. But free speech also comes with consequences, you say? Really? I guess accusing refs of bad calls and turning out to be wrong 3-4 times and losing credibility with supporters wouldn't be a natural consequence in itself?
We still have a lot of growing up to do in this country.