I got an interesting note from a friend this week who reported that his gym has recently enacted a news blackout on TVs in the workout area.  My friend reports “apparently at certain times of the day, tempers would flare among some members, reacting to what was being said on certain news stations.  This led to near fisticuffs at times, or so I have been told by management.”

One can only imagine the spectacle of Fox watching tread millers going toe to toe with the MSNBC watching stationary bike riders. Not exactly Crips and Bloods, but a form of gang warfare nonetheless.

The gym apparently decided that free anger management therapy would be cost prohibitive, so they decided to simply tune the TVs to non-news channels.  So, the gym rats now get the choice of the History Channel, ESPN, TBS, HG TV and another home décor channel.  Apparently, this is becoming a thing.

My friend reports that he and other customers are not happy with this decision, as it punishes everyone for the bad behavior of a few.  It appears, however, that the gym is not changing its policy.  His question to me is whether this presents a First Amendment issue.

The answer is, almost certainly no.  The gym he frequents is a private facility, and even if it receives some federal funding that really doesn’t change the analysis.  The First Amendment applies to state action, not private action.  And, even if the gym were owned by the government, it could likely choose the channels it broadcast on its TV screens.  The government itself enjoys First Amendment protection for its own speech.   That’s why, for example, a city may erect a statute honoring Martin Luther King, but not be obligated to allow a Confederate monument to stand.

So the First Amendment is likely not the remedy here.  But perhaps speech can save the day.  If enough customers complain, perhaps the gym will reconsider.  But that may be a heavy lift.  So to speak.