UK stops Kernel distribution at stadium

Click here for updated story

UK officials have prohibited the Kentucky Kernel from distributing newspapers at Commonwealth Stadium before football games, a move First Amendment lawyers call unconstitutional.

On Sept. 18, UK Athletics officials stopped eight Kernel advertising staff members who came to the stadium’s parking lot before the game against Akron to distribute issues of the free student publication, Kernel Student Advertising Manager Sarah Geegan said.

After originally stopping the advertising staffers—seven of whom were students—for operating an improperly marked golf cart, officials caught up with the group as it passed out newspapers in a recreational vehicle area and asked Geegan and the advertising team to stop distributing the publication. Officials said a contract with IMG College, a sports marketing firm, prohibits the Kernel and other publications from handing out papers on Commonwealth Stadium grounds, Geegan said.

Officials advised the Kernel to contact UK Athletics Marketing, Promotions and Licensing to gain permission. Geegan said the advertising staff called multiple times, but never got a response.

Geegan said the Kernel advertising staff has handed out nearly 2,000 newspapers before every home football game for 10 years without interference from UK. For UK’s Oct. 9 home game against Auburn, the staff passed out papers on streets and lots surrounding the stadium property, Geegan said.

Kernel Editor-in-Chief Matt Murray said he believes UK’s actions are unconstitutional.

“It’s a clear violation of our First Amendment rights,” Murray said. “No amount of money should be able to buy away anyone’s constitutional freedoms.”

The First Amendment prohibits any law that impedes free speech, restricts religion, obstructs the freedom of the press, interferes with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibits the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

UK is a state-funded university and owns Commonwealth Stadium, making the venue a public place.

The Kernel plans to continue distributing on the public university’s campus, including Commonwealth Stadium, Murray said.

Mike Hiestand, a consulting attorney for the Student Press Law Center in Washington D.C., believes UK’s actions and its contract with IMG impedes the Kernel’s free press rights.

“The university cannot contract away students’ First Amendment rights,” Hiestand said.

According to the contract, UK’s deal with IMG is worth $80 million and grants the company exclusive advertising and media rights.

“UK is doing everything it can to protect its contract with us,” Big Blue Sports Marketing general manager Kim Bucci Shelton said.

Big Blue Sports is the subsidiary of IMG that deals with UK. Shelton declined further comment and directed any questions regarding the contract to UK.

Jon Fleischaker, a media lawyer who has represented the Chicago Tribune, the Kentucky Press Association and The Courier-Journal in Louisville, said UK put money ahead of its students’ rights when it prohibited the Kernel from distributing papers at games.

“For them, it’s a money-making enterprise,” he said. “They want to make every nickel they can.”

UK Executive Director of Public Relations and Marketing Jay Blanton said he believes UK’s practices are constitutional because distribution is not guaranteed in the Constitution.

“The First Amendment grants the right to publish, but there are limits to where publications can be distributed,” Blanton said.

Fleischaker said UK cannot restrict the distribution of publications because it is a public university.

“Case after case has said the First Amendment grants the right to distribute,” he said. “What they’re trying to do is like trying to sell the rights to the sidewalk.”

Blanton compared IMG’s grip on the distribution rights to another aspect of the stadium.

“Commonwealth charges for parking,” he said. “No one would say that’s prohibiting the right to assemble.”

Fleischaker disagrees with Blanton’s analogy.

“The right to free speech is not a right they have to sell,” he said.

Other newspapers at schools with IMG contracts have not had trouble having a presence at games, but do not actively dispense papers like the Kernel does. Rather than having representatives distribute newspapers at home games, the University of Tennessee, University of Michigan, University of Florida and Ohio State University all have newspaper boxes located near their  venues.

The Lexington Herald-Leader sold papers at Commonwealth Stadium before the IMG contract went into effect in 2004. The newspaper faced opposition from UK officials and ultimately stopped distributing the publication because sales at games were dismal, Herald-Leader publisher Tim Kelly said.

Blanton said that if the Kernel wants to distribute newspapers at games, it could potentially get distribution rights from IMG.

“It’s a business decision,” Blanton said. “IMG has the exclusive rights, and they get to sell these rights. UK is just enforcing the contract.”

Fleischaker said the right to free speech is not limited to the media and includes ideas and other publications, but UK doesn’t prohibit distribution of those.

“Passing out papers is no different than handing out the Bible at games or even wearing UK shirts,” Fleischaker said. “People make all sorts of statements at these games, but they’ve sold the paper’s right to do this.”

If UK puts the “rights” of a corporation above those of students how long will UK itself be around?
The contract with IMG should be dissolved. It is almost beyond belief that a public university would do something like this. A student newspaper can’t be distributed to students because the university sold those rights?

Keep distributing the papers. Make certain you have a photog today with every distribution group. Publish the pictures of the goons UK sends to stop your distribution. Get video and audio if you can. Good luck to you today…take the Commonwealth’s property back from the UKAA.

If UK persists in blocking the student newspaper’s right to distribute the Kentucky Kernel it will become a national story, a national cause. Is that what the suits in the admin building and athletic department really want? Because it surely is what is going to happen if those students are blocked, or one of the arrested and disciplinary action taken. Just one more glaring example of how little students matter in college sports today.

If paUK persists in blocking the student newspaper’s right to distribute the Kentucky Kernel it will become a national story, a national cause. Is that what the suits in the admin building and athletic department really want? Because it surely is what is going to happen if those students are blocked, or one of the arrested and disciplinary action taken. Just one more glaring example of how little students matter in college sports today.

To “Canuck’s Dad” and anyone else who thinks UK and IMG have legal standing here, I suggest you Google the Hays County Guardian v. Supple decision.

Ballgame.

Since IMG owns the exclusive Advertising and Media rights….then not only can IMG try to push out any non IMG publication but then they would also have the rights to exclude all Media from the games.

All still and video photographers working for publications along with writers and columnist unless you fall under IMG publication arm.

Fight it now or you will lose all say over your public universities later.

Also, I hardly think it is against anyones 1st amendment right not to hand out their paper. If the Kernal wants to stand outside the stadium, reading out loud their opinions/news… so be it. But they cannot DISTRIBUTE.

This is silly. The kernal is awful anyways. They have a total of 4 people (all men of course) who they interview regularly and get the same stupid responses. It is business people! UK has to uphold its contracts to maintain their integrity towards other business and people who work with them.

Stop blaming UK for following the rules, tell your overrated student paper (yes I did read it Freshman year) to find more important things to complain about… like parking!

Thomas Jefferson envisioned that land grant universities would ensure an educated populace that could guard against their Constitutional Rights being taken away by outside interests. Newspapers and a free press have always been meant to do the same. Unfortunately, judging by most of the above comments, the battle has already been lost. When the university sells out its students rights to companies like ING and naming rights to special interests like the Coal Industry, it stops fulfilling its mission (Jay Blanton should read the mission statement) and starts being another part of the corporate hegemony. Welcome to UK, Inc.

@ Canuck’s Dad

The “victim card”? Maybe I am a little biased, being a journalist, and I don’t know whether your ignorance and condescension has anything to do with the fact that the Kernel’s staff are “just students,” but do you think the Kernel is upset because they want to “have a little fun” and waste peoples’ time?

The Kernel has a right to distribute on the grounds of Commonwealth because it is a public university owned facility, therefore it is a public forum. UK is trying to circumvent that to appease an advertising company. I’m sure you don’t agree, but if there are any places left in this country that should be free from the grip of commercialization it is our schools.

Let me put this into perspective, “Dad.” Commercialization has now encapsulated nearly every aspect of University life: Athletes are told what clothing brands they can and cannot wear due to sponsorship rights; Professors make deals with publishing companies, that issue new editions of the exact same text book yearly for astronomical prices; students cannot walk across campus without an endless bombardment of solicitation and advertising.

How do you think the Kernel feels about getting slapped out of their stomping grounds and having their rights to free press violated because of IMG. This is just another hypocritical and embarrassing act the university has committed in their endless pursuit of more money – they forbid the Kernel from distributing the paper but they let tens of thousands of people get away with drinking on campus grounds (a direct violation of university policy) during gameday just alumni and supporters don’t get turned off. I don’t know about my fellow students, but if I come back in ten years and Blanding has been renamed Coca-Cola Tower, I won’t be happy but I also won’t be the least bit surprised.

One more thing, comparing a student newspaper’s staff upholding and defending the most important and freedom-stabilizing aspect of our Rights to a rapist defending himself on the grounds of religious freedom is asinine. Your lack of understanding on this matter, combined with your propensity to jump in and attack, is appalling. I would ask the staff to delete your idiotic comment but, unfortunately, I realize you have every right to say whatever the hell you want – isn’t it just great :)

If UK actually read the content of the Kernel, they’d know they had nothing to worry about. I doubt the bi-annual editorial about the unfairness of dead week really puts a hurtin’ on the University as a whole.

As for the past comments, I do have to say that the Ky Kernel has done an excellent job with their staff on the live blogging. Couldn’t keep up without them. As for the newspaper distributions, I don’t think that giving out this newspaper is going to cause the chaos that some would think. It is the school newspaper? What does UK do but put the needs of the students LAST. I’m really glad President Todd is getting out while he can. Be glad that he can with a little dignity left. As for the 1st admendment….we already have lost respect for this country by giving Obama a right to be our for say president. And look at the things that are happening in this country. If I possibly could change my name and move to a foreign country I would. Hey the US is almost a 3rd world country now since Walmart has nothing but “made in China” or some other country. Feel like that we are going back instead of forwards. Let the papers alone. For gosh sakes, it’s harmless~~

As a UK alum, this makes me ashamed to call UK my alma mater. Advertising dollars don’t make UK the next great American university, they make it a sell-out. A university is about the students, ALL the students from the athletes to the journalism students. UK can’t play favorites with students because it lowers the standards for all students.

@Canuck’s Dad: If we let our 1st Amendment rights start being violated at the University level, where does it stop? Any violation of the 1st Amendment is a violation of our constitution.

@John: When I was a student at UK, it made no difference to me what the quality of the athletes was. I was there for an education. I was angry to see the “big-time” athletes get away with things that no other student would dream of trying. Quality athletes DO NOT build school spirit.

Canuk’s dad, are you serious? The issue is not (as you style it) the Kernel playing the victim card. The issue is that the university has dealt away the rights of a third party (the Kernel) to entice IMG to do business with them. It’s equivalent to Kentucky abridging the rights of a certain bloc of voters to vote as an inducement to bring in a new plant or business. Essentially, the University has given away something that was not theirs to give. Allowing this to stand (no matter how you might feel about the Kernel) sets a precedent that may some day jump up and bite you in the ass….and you will have set the example that allows it to happen.

Rights are rights. If you don’t protect them, they will be lost. Go, Kernel, Go.

Doesn’t the Kernel have more important things to do than bicker and play the victim card with 1st Amendment rights, and otherwise eat up time, money and resources for legal arguments? Seriously, the kernel is all over campus, available free of charge online, people who care about it already know and read it. Blanton is right about this. The university has a contract with other advertising firms, UK can’t allow competitors to freely compete by turning the other cheeck. How would you like to be in charge of an organization, spend a ton of money reaching a clear understanding and legal agreement with someone else only to find they’re not honoring it? It would certainly jeopardize your relationship and that contract wouldn’t it? Same thing is happening here. Difference is, everyone wants to be the victim and talk about how their rights were violated. What a bunch of crap. What’s this country going to do when rapists go around using that excuse “well, I had a right to rape that girl, rape isn’t wrong in my view or under my religious doctrine”. C’mon, seriously! You have to draw the line somewhere with this stuff. If any of you have ever worked a day in your life in business or industry in some form of supervisor capacity you’d know this. Kernel can whine all day about this one, but they’re wrong and most courts will agree, wait and see.

“For them, it’s a money-making enterprise,” he said. “They want to make every nickel they can.”

UK put money ahead of its students’ rights when it prohibited the Kernel from distributing papers at games.

Typical when you get lawyers involved. It is simple, the media rights deal UK has with IMG brings a huge economic benefit to the school/athletic department. Sure each student may not see the direct impact…but well funded athletic programs bring in better athletes…creating better teams, which builds stronger school pride and alumni support, which ultimately brings more students, more money and more donations to the school….everyone wins.

You can’t always take a situation on its face, you need to dig into the details a bit.

If it’s public property, then why can UK block smoking both indoors AND outdoors on its grounds? The rest of Lexington is NS indoor-only.

It’s not like you’re forcing anybody to take a paper. As long as I still have the right to say “No, thanks. I don’t want a paper.” then you should be able to keep distributing it.

You all should head back to the stadium this weekend and continue to do the same. If they try this garbage with you again, tell them to pi$$ off. Invite the local media for bonus lulz.