Ejected fan may sue RSL

By By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

(Click here for video of the incident between RSL and the Tibetan-flag wavers.0

A fan kicked out of the Real Salt Lake exhibition game against China earlier this month is seeking action against RSL, claiming the team violated his First Amendment rights.

Twenty minutes before the match was scheduled to end, RSL fans Colin Coker and Brandon Hone were escorted out of Rice-Eccles Stadium after members of the Chinese national team threatened to step off the field.

RSL authorities claimed the players from the Chinese team stopped playing because a handful of fans–including Coker and Hone–started waving Tibetan flags, a cardboard cutout of Chairman Mao and a sign with the numbers “6-4” written in Chinese, a reference to June 4, 1989, when the Chinese government opened fire on protestors in Tiananmen Square.

The fans, who are members of the Rogue Cavalier Brigade, an unofficial RSL fan club, said their freedom of speech and their right to protest against communism and China’s government were silenced after U police asked them to step out of the stadium.

In an interview earlier this week, Hone said he preferred not to comment on the issue “to let it die.”

Coker, though, said he is planning to seek legal action against RSL and has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union.

“There’s no doubt that our First Amendment rights were violated,” Coker said. “There were a lot of people waving Chinese and American flags, so I don’t know how they can restrict that selectively.”

RSL spokesman Trey Fitz-Gerald said RSL was not restricting the fans’ freedom of speech, but instead kicked them out of the stadium because they were creating a distraction.

“They are just hiding behind their freedom of speech claims,” Fitz-Gerald said. “They had no intention of making a political statement. Their intentions were to rattle the opposition to give our team a competitive advantage.”

RSL spokesperson John Koluder said although RSL is a private organization, it sets policies “in concert” with the U while renting the arena.

This means that according to the policy written on the back of every RSL ticket, “Using (the) ticket results in a contract between the user and University” and each attendee agrees to “comply with applicable state law and University regulations” when the ticket is purchased.

Although U campus policy protects speech from being censored, the fans were kicked off the field because of their “unruly behavior,” Koluder said.

Wayne McCormack, a professor in the U’s law school, said a number of legal factors need to be considered to determine if RSL’s assessment is correct, including who prints and markets the tickets and what the exact renting policy between the U and RSL is.

“I couldn’t possibly have a guess,” McCormack said. “It’s a complicated matter–there’s a lot to look at.”

In an earlier interview, Fitz-Gerald said RSL officials and members of the brigade had talked since the incident, which Coker said was untrue. Fitz-Gerald, however, stands by the fact that a meeting between members of each organization was held.

Fitz-Gerald also said members of the group had been kicked out of events before, which both Coker and Hone disagreed with.

“I’ve never talked to Fitz-Gerald. He doesn’t even know me,” Coker said. “He’s lying when he said that.”

Fitz-Gerald said RSL and members of the brigade are meeting to schedule a fund-raiser in the next couple of weeks. The event, which Fitz-Gerald said would be themed as “the longest tailgate party,” would raise money for local Tibetan relief groups.

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