Jorge Leon has been an Oakland A’s fan for as long as he can remember. But he keeps getting in trouble at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. His offense? He brings large signs that criticize A’s co-owner Lew Wolff for his plan to move the team to San Jose. On April 7, coliseum security made Leon take down his sign that read: “Lew Wolff Hates Oakland.” Then on April 20, when Leon refused to take down a sign that read, “Wolff lied, he never tried,” an argument with security ensued and he was expelled.
Before the confrontation, Leon predicted that his hand-made sign would provoke a reaction. And sure enough, after the April 20 game got underway, two security officers demanded that Leon take down his sign. They said it was “because it says ‘Wolff,'” adding that “we have the discretion to take off signs.”
Leon and supporters countered that security was infringing on their First Amendment rights. “This is a publicly financed stadium paid for by the citizens of Oakland and Alameda County, and he is suppressing free speech,” said fellow A’s fan Garth Kimball. Security found the argument unpersuasive. But as they escorted Leon from the stadium, the section he had been sitting in started chanting: “Lew Wolff sucks.”
Bob Rose, director of public relations for the A’s, said that the team has had a policy in place for more than thirty years banning signs with negative personal messages, so the target of the message had nothing to do with the decision. Signs become an issue, he said, if they target specific individuals and are in “bad taste.” Although signs that ridicule opposing players and teams are commonplace at the coliseum, Rose nonetheless maintained that security would “absolutely” act as quickly to remove a sign with a personal attack against an opposing player as they did for the team’s co-owner.
“Fans bring signs all the time talking about players, is that in bad taste?” Leon asked. He said he began protesting Wolff’s attempts to relocate the team because he “felt that the media was just putting out what Lew Wolff wanted out there … so I decided that I had to stand up and fight for what I love.” Both his signs ridiculed Wolff’s claim that he had thoroughly reviewed all possible ballpark sites in Oakland even though the city has come up with two new sites in Jack London Square.
Leon said his next move is to “bring more signs. Do more marches. Hand out flyers. Anything I can do to get the word out that it is ownership that is really responsible for a lot of the problems facing the team.”