Lileks: Play ball – and nothing else! That's an order!

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 5, 2014 - 8:03 PM

Are you planning a barbecue during the weeks surrounding the All-Star Game? Check with the city; this might be a problem.

Turns out Minneapolis had agreed not to give permits for events during a 15-day period around the All-Star Game — unless the Major League Baseball honchos approve. The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of a group that wanted to commemorate a 1934 labor protest, and the city said “OK, the all-important two-week window shall henceforth be nine days,” and a wand was waved. The ACLU dropped the suit this week.

Hmmm.

If someone was demanding the right to stage a protest during the game itself, that would be different. You want to lead a chanting mob around the bases at Target Field insisting that baseball says “stealing home” is a metaphor for the foreclosure of residences by predatory lenders? No.

But forbidding protests elsewhere downtown because it might dilute the game? Are they worried some bored reporters might note the labor protest, and the All-Star Game would forever be tainted by contemporaneous association with Bolshevism?

As the AP put it: “The purpose was to keep the All-Star Game’s focus on baseball and ‘to prevent ambush marketing activity and other activities with the potential to distract from the event.’ ”

First of all, it seems reasonable to assume that the All-Star Game’s focus would be on baseball, given that it is a baseball game that uses baseballs to play baseball in a baseball stadium. Second, the idea that the city would turn down someone’s permit for a downtown activity because it has the potential to distract suggests we are obligated to pay very close attention to this. There might be a quiz.

Is distraction during the game OK? A man walking down the aisles of the stadium hawking brats has the potential to distract from the event. Quick: Get men on the roof with tranquilizer darts.

How much was the city willing to roll over for this? Imagine that chat:

“Is two weeks enough? You need a month? Heck, have the summer if you like, although we have this thing called the Aquatennial — do you mind horribly if we celebrate just a bit? Normally there’s a parade with torches, but we can just have two guys run up and down the mall with Bic lighters. OK, just up the mall. They’ll be fast.”

You might say it’s a good idea to forbid other events, because people might get confused. They might be en route to a baseball game and see a march commemorating a 1934 labor strike and think that’s the game — despite the lack of similarities. When they get back to the hotel and turn on the TV, they’re surprised because they thought the final score was Police over the Truckers by a score of 2-0.

But there’s an easy way to tell if you’re observing a baseball game or a solemn commemoration of a violent episode of Minneapolis’ Depression-era history. Did you pay $513? No? It’s not a baseball game.

As for ambush marketing, the term refers to groups that piggyback on big events to push their own stuff. But “piggyback marketing” sounds kind of cute, so they use a term that makes it sound like guys are crouched in darkened doorways, waiting for tourists heading to the ballpark, then rush out whooping and howling “HERE’S A FREE SAMPLE OF RED BULL AAAAUUUGGHHH!!!!” and everyone runs away screaming.

You can be sure they have the term “All Star” locked up so tight the Hubble can’t open its shutter for the entire month of June.

Don’t worry about that First Amendment, though. Said a city spokesperson: “It’s always been the city’s intention to follow all requirements of the First Amendment, and we met with folks from the ACLU to discuss their concerns.”

Well, the courts uphold that permit power doesn’t violate the First Amendment but must be “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest,” as my legal training (by which I mean, the first Google search result I read) put it.

“Having an All-Star Game uninterrupted by competing events in a fortnight” might be a compelling governmental interest if government was, indeed, run by baseball, and presidents served “innings” and legislative proposals failed if the sponsor didn’t get it passed three times and struck out. “But don’t we have separation of Sport and State?”

Oh, stop laughing.

In any case, it all seems to be antithetical to the freedom of assembly? Unless you think the term means you have the right to put together a bookshelf you bought at Ikea.

It’s possible that the shortened window for competing events may jinx our shot at the Final Four, which might want the city to ensure no one uses the words “final” and “four” in proximity within a 3-mile radius for the period between 2016 and 2017. It would be a pity to lose that event. It’s always good to host a national event that turns the nation’s eyes to our fair city for a few hours — I mean, people are still talking about those shots of Atlanta used between commercials for the 2007 game, don’t you know — but let us try to keep our constitutional rights intact.

Or you might find that the city is requiring you to quarter some of the coaching staff in your spare bedroom.

They’re not troops, so it’s not really a violation of the Third Amendment.

 

jlileks@startribune.com 612-673-7858

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