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Lawmaker wants ‘air ball’ police WIAA to open its records to the public

By   /   January 21, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

MADISON, Wis. – The speech police have hit Wisconsin high school sports, but one lawmaker is hitting back.

State Rep. John Nygren said he will introduce a bill that would require the taxpayer-supported Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association to open up its meetings and records, as other public entities are required to do.

The move comes in the wake of the national wedgy the WIAA received over its December email reminding school administrators of the association’s sportsmanship “guidelines.”  The document reads more like an edict, urging school officials to take immediate action to stop student sections at sporting events from chanting things like “air ball,” “overrated,” and other expressions someone might find offensive.

“This is political correctness run amok. Let kids be kids. Let’s enjoy the athletic experience. The bureaucrats can regulate their own games,” Nygren, R-Marinette, told Wisconsin Watchdog on Thursday on “Madison in the Morning” on NewsTalk 1310 WIBA.

WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson told Fox11 News that the sportsmanship rules are nothing new. They were implemented in 2005 and have been widely available to the public, he said.

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WATCH WHAT YOU SAY: The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association memo on sportsmanship and what students can and cannot chant set off a firestorm of criticism nationwide.

“School athletic directors have used information, made it known, and shared that information with students and member schools for a lot of years. Nothing is secret about it,” Anderson said.

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But the development of WIAA policy and procedures can remain out of the public eye. Nygren’s bill would change that.

The lawmaker said greater transparency might just change the way the athletic association conducts itself.

“If they know the public is looking,” Nygren said. “If the public has its eyes and ears in the room when these decisions are made, it might affect their decisions and that might be a good thing for the WIAA.”

Nygren has, at times, been a critic of some provisions in the state’s open records laws, and in turn he has been criticized by open records advocates. But the legislator said his bill is about opening up an association that is funded by school dues, money that comes from taxpayers.

The WIAA memo sent out in December to school officials in part stated: … “(W)e want to address concerns with a noticeable increase in the amount of chants by student sections directed at opponents and/​or opponents’ supporters that are clearly intended to taunt or disrespect.

“Not wanting to restrict creativity or enjoyment, an enthusiastic and boisterous display of support for a school’s team is welcomed and encouraged at interscholastic events when directed in a positive manner. However, any action directed at opposing teams or their spectators with the intent to taunt, disrespect, distract or entice an unsporting behavior in response in not acceptable sportsmanship,” the memo said.

The outcry from the public – in Wisconsin and nationally – has been intense.

Students at some games have sealed their mouths with duct tape to protest the rules, and one high school basketball player was suspended five games after she sent out a “vulgar” tweet ridiculing the sportsmanship memo.

“There’s nothing in there that says they can’t cheer and be excited, but we have always wanted it to be positive in nature,” WIAA spokesman Todd Clark told the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.

Nygren said the WIAA’s speech code is part of a wider movement that is eroding protections for free speech.

“The people trying to shut down free speech, they’re typically the people who have no problem speaking about what they believe in, but shutting down the speech they don’t agree with,” Nygren said. “We need to be vigilant on all sides.”


M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.