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Rays fan objects after T-shirt gets him ushered from Tropicana Field

Melton Little, a lawyer and season ticket-holder, went to a Yankees game with his 8-year-old son.

Melton Little

Melton Little, a lawyer and season ticket-holder, went to a Yankees game with his 8-year-old son.

Melton Little loves the Rays, and he hates the Yankees.

He owns a T-shirt that captures these sentiments perfectly, especially when worn at Tropicana Field.

It is white with blue block letters, and it expresses fans' derision for the New York team in two simple words:

YANKEES SUCK.

The T-shirt got Little tossed out of the Trop during a Rays-Yankees game on May 16.

The Rays won that game 6-5. But they were behind when an usher came up to Little, who was sitting with his two sons, ages 8 and 19. The usher asked Little to come with him.

The usher told him the shirt violated stadium policy because it included a "profanity." He could either flip it over, put on a different shirt, or leave.

Little left. The next day, he learned that a pamphlet given to fans mentions prohibited items.

Little, who spent $30,000 on seven seats this season, penned a letter to the Rays asking them to reconsider their policy. To him, the word is neither obscene, indecent or offensive.

With it, he included photocopies of the online Merriam Webster's library definitions of those words.

Obscene: disgusting to the senses, repulsive. Indecent: not decent; grossly improper or offensive. Offensive: making attack; aggressive.

"I cannot rationalize how the shirt fits into any of these definitions," he wrote in his letter. "Unless, I guess, of course, you are a Yankees fan."

The Rays received but have not replied to Little's letter. Rays spokesman Rick Vaughn declined to comment.

Little bought his shirt for $10 outside Boston's Fenway Park about a decade ago. Back then, those T-shirts were banned from Seattle's Safeco Field during a Yankees-Mariners series. Boston wouldn't allow them, either.

Banning strongly worded T-shirts is common in sports arenas all over the country, said Milwaukee lawyer Nick DeSiato, who wrote a law review article last year about free speech in stadiums.

Most ballparks are built with public dollars or owned by their respective cities, DeSiato noted, and Tropicana Field is both. But franchises control things like stadium entry and ticket sales, so in a courtroom a ballpark is not considered a public space.

"This is an ACLU lawyer's dream," DeSiato said.

But Little, a lawyer who practices civil and family law, just wishes the Trop's policy was more clear.

He wonders: Who's really complaining? Dozens of people at the stadium complimented him on his shirt, and it's not uncommon to hear "Yankees suck" being chanted throughout the stadium during those games.

And, Little said, there are much worse words out there.

"I teach my kids to say that instead of other four-letter words," he said.

Researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Luis Perez can be reached at (727)892-2271 or Lperez@sptimes.com.

Rays fan objects after T-shirt gets him ushered from Tropicana Field 05/25/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2011 2:15pm]
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