There are some self-described constitutionalists who believe that a person’s free speech rights are violated when they suffer consequences for what they say. They would have a point if those consequences involved a government prosecuting people for unpopular speech, but that’s never the case.
Instead, these faux constitutionalists see a violation of free speech when public figures say things they agree with and then face public ridicule. These people are accustomed to saying whatever they want without penalty, and now they are angry about losing that privilege.
Manny Pacquiao is the latest martyr for their cause. Nike ended its endorsement deal with the Filipino boxer following his vile, bigoted comments about gay people. In an interview posted online, Pacquiao said gay people are “worse than animals” and displayed unsurprising ignorance about animal biology.
After some backlash Pacquiao, who identifies as a born-again Christian, offered an apology for his comments. That wasn’t enough for Nike, which called Pacquiao's comments "abhorrent."
According to Filipino news agency ABS-CBN, hours after losing the Nike sponsorship Pacquiao posted a since-deleted comment to his Instagram page in which he quoted Leviticus 20:13 from the Old Testament. That's the verse that says gay men should be "put to death."
Nike has decided that it does not want to be associated with Pacquiao after his hateful comments. The company figures backlash against Pacquiao could hurt its bottom line. Considering the social winds are in favor of more civil rights for gay people, Nike’s calculation is correct.
This is about capitalism, not political correctness. Nike wants to sell shoes to gay people and those who support their rights. Its decision to drop Pacquiao is not an altruistic gesture. In fact, Nike resisted calls to boot Pacquiao in 2012 when he made comments in opposition to marriage equality. It cut ties with him only after it appeared he was done as a boxer, before later re-signing him once he revived his ring career.
Pacquiao is a congressman in the Philippines who is running for Senate. Bob Arum, the promoter for Pacquiao’s fight scheduled for April, said he disagrees with his fighter's comments but explained that they are meant as red meat for conservative voters in that country.
"It's like if Donald Trump was a boxer and I was promoting Donald Trump when he was running for president," Arum told the Associated Press. "I would be killed by the media for all the stupid statements he is making."
Probably so, but his boxer would be embraced by those who never tire of fuel for their persecution complex. Also, his boxer would gain points in the conservative party's polls.
If you believe Nike was wrong to drop Pacquiao, then you are free to avoid buying Nike products. You can support him by paying to see his next fight, which Pacquiao says will be his last. You can publicly voice your agreement with his comments and rail against the backlash he got for them.
What you cannot do is credibly cry about persecution. It's funny when people who worship the free market get their feelings hurt when their opinions lose out in the marketplace of ideas. They lack the self-awareness to see the irony.
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