My Two Cents: Drama and Debate (D)

Many of my Facebook friends were up in arms this week over a controversial decision involved the Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) and small town kid who won a state speech contest.

The Cliff’s Notes version:

Michael Barth won a state speech contest for poetry.  As a state champion, he was invited to perform his winning reading for a “Best of the Best” show to be aired statewide on Nebraska Educational Television (NET).  However, Rhonda Blanford-Green, executive director of the NSAA asked Barth to perform a different reading for the broadcast.


Barth’s performance drew from three poems, all of which deal with gender identity.  Blanford-Green was concerned that  Barth would be using “Best of the Best to promote personal agendas” and sought to “avoid any negative connotations for individuals within this statewide production”.

Predictably, this created a firestorm of controversy.  Blanford-Green and the NSAA were under attack for stifling free speech on a performance that was deemed appropriate by judges throughout the course of the year.

(If you want more, the Omaha World-Herald has a good article)

Without knowing any of the players involved, my belief is that Ms. Blanford-Green had good intentions by asking Barth to perform a different piece.  I do not believe she was trying to restrict his right to free speech.

While his performance (which can be viewed here) was deemed okay by his coaches and judges in the speech community, a statewide broadcast brings in an entirely different audience.

What I’m trying to politely say is that Blanford-Green likely knows the audience of “Best of the Best” – a completely nondescript program that I had never heard of until Wednesday – will likely contain the type of people who are unfamiliar with speech competitions and will raise a holy stink about “deviant lifestyles” being promoted to children, by children, on NET.

In other words, I believe Blanford-Green was trying to protect Barth (as well as herself and the NSAA) from cranks who are looking for an excuse to be offended so they can display their moral outrage – especially when the program is scheduled to be aired on Easter morning.

I can understand why Ms. Blanford-Green would want to avoid having that conversation with these folks.  I know I wouldn’t want to talk to a bunch of ignorant old cranks who think Fred Phelps had a point.

But in her haste to cover her ass, Ms. Blanford-Green made two crucial errors:

  1. Wanting to avoid talking to nut jobs is not a good enough reason to censor Barth.  (Besides, the NSAA could have invited somebody else to perform in the Poetry portion of the program).
  2. You don’t want to get into a debate with a bunch of speech and drama geeks.  Because you will lose.  Every.  Single.  Time.

Predictably, the NSAA reversed their decision and Barth was allowed to perform his original speech, but the damage was already done.

*   *   *

(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

One Comment

Eventually people will figure out that when you try to muzzle someone or re-direct their speech or path to keep something quiet or avoid trouble, you will generally make it bigger than it would have been had everything just gone on as originally planned, and that bigger is usually worse for the people trying to muzzle or re-direct. Cheerios brought out their commercial, critics looked like fools. Coke brought out their commercial (people singing America in different languages), critics looked like fools.

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