United States Bridge Federation Will Forego Harsh Sanctions
By Jon Ponder on 11/23/2007, 2:36pm PT  

Guest blogged by Jon Ponder, Pensito Review.

The members of the world-champion U.S. womens bridge team who faced harsh sanctions because they held up an anti-Bush sign during awards ceremonies in Shanghai last month have struck a deal with their professional organization, the United States Bridge Federation (USBF).

As the tournament was playing out, they were barraged with questions and criticism of George Bush and his policies by players from other countries. When they took the stage after they'd won the championship, one of Americans held up a hand-lettered sign that read, "We did not vote for Bush."

After the incident made international news, the women received emails from fellow members of the USBF who remain in Bush loyalists accusing them of "treason" and "sedition." But the harshest reaction came from the USBF leadership who threatened to impose a draconian settlement on the champions:

It [called] for a one-year suspension from federation events, including the World Bridge Olympiad next year in Beijing; a one-year probation after that suspension; 200 hours of community service "that furthers the interests of organized bridge"; and an apology drafted by the federation’s lawyer.

It would also require them to write a statement telling "who broached the idea of displaying the sign, when the idea was adopted, etc."

Alan Falk, a lawyer for the federation, wrote the four team members on Nov. 6, "I am instructed to press for greater sanction against anyone who rejects this compromise offer."

The sanctions had the distinct odor of Bush-era fascism about them, which led to an even greater uproar. Free speech advocates were up in arms. Supporters of the bridge team compared them to the Dixie Chicks, the all-female group from Texas who were ostracized by country music fans several years ago after they expressed shame that Bush was also from their home state.

But now the controversy appears to be mostly smoothed over:

The women have agreed to a statement recognizing the federation’s right to request that bridge teams representing the country refrain from using awards ceremonies for anything other than accepting medals.

However:

The team’s nonplaying captain, Gail Greenberg, was not part of the settlement...

Ms. Greenberg, winner of six world championships, said she wanted to talk to her lawyer, Norman Siegel, the former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, before accepting the agreement.

"A stipulation of this agreement is that both the USBF and the team will not take legal action against each other," she said.

"Although I’m not vindictive and have no intention at this moment of suing," she continued, "I don’t want to lose my right to sue in the future if, one, they do some harm to me that I’m not currently aware of or, two, that they feel free to write in their bulletin anything they want about me."

This is obviously not your mother's bridge game.