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  • Writer's pictureBen Lacy

But I LIKE my shirt....


During the pre-match brief for a match at a recent tournament, the referee notices my partner, a good friend of mine, was wearing a shirt depicting a graphic display of violent humor. Personally, I did not think too much about it because I've known my friend for many years and his sense of humor is...well...let's just say his humor is not for everyone. After a short discussion, the referee requests that my friend change his shirt. At first, my partner refuses, stating that the humor depicted is simply his statement of constitutionally protected free speech. The referee then insists my partner change shirts, and he did, though he was not very happy about it. My question is, what are the repercussions if my friend had stood his ground on free speech?


Thank you for your great question! Had your friend been versed in the rulebook, they might have realized they had the option of asking for the Tournament Director to make a final ruling, but I don't think the outcome would have been beneficial for your team. Here's why.

There a couple of things going on here at once. The first is that free speech does not apply during a tournament. Your "right" to free speech does not mean you can say anything you want during match play, as the distraction rule (3.A.7.) explicitly defines a distraction as:

Physical actions by a player that are ‘not common to the game’ that, in the judgment of the referee, may interfere with the opponent’s ability or concentration to hit the ball.

Wearing a shirt with a potentially offensive graphic is a physical action. The referee may have seen the shirt as a distraction to other players, and is well within their job description to ask your friend to change.

The next is rule 2.G. APPAREL, especially 2.G.2. The parts that apply here are:

2.G.1. Safety and Distraction. A player may be required to change apparel that is inappropriate, including that which approximates the color of the ball.

2.G.2. Depictions. Graphics, insignias, pictures, and writing on apparel must be in good taste.

2.G.4. Violation. The Tournament Director has the authority to enforce apparel changes. If the Tournament Director enforces an apparel change, it will be a non-chargeable time-out. If the player refuses to comply with the apparel rules, the Tournament Director may declare a forfeit of the match.

So, if your friend had been adamant with regards to their wardrobe selection, the TD, in all likelihood, could have given your partner a choice: remove the shirt or forfeit the match.

Luckily it all worked out and I hope your team did well in the tournament.

Coach Ben

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