'Dixie Chicks of Bridge' tell their story to CBS
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When it was reported last week that a team of American bridge-players who held up a sign saying "We did not vote for Bush" after winning an international bridge tournament in Shanghai might be sanctioned by the U.S. Bridge Federation, there was an immediate outpouring of strong feelings on both sides of the issue.
Though some fellow bridge-players were prepared to call the team members "traitors," the outrage meter swung strongly in the opposite direction when the USBF announced, "It is simply not the time or place for any team to make a political statement" and demanded that they be suspended from competition for a year, put in 200 hours of community service, and sign a lawyer-drafted letter of apology.
"This isn't a free-speech issue," said USBF president Jan Martel, explaining that the incident could cost the federation corporate sponsors. "There isn't any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them."
However, team captain Gail Greenberg explained that the sign had been meant as a response to bridge players from other countries. "There was a lot of anti-Bush feeling, questioning of our Iraq policy and about torture," she said. "There wasn't the amount of warmth you usually feel at these events."
The bridge players generally enjoyed overwhelming support wherever their story was reported, with many commenters agreeing that hostility towards President Bush is so great that Americans traveling abroad have little choice but to distance themselves from his policies.
The team members have now become minor celebrities, to the point where they were introduced with a great deal of hooplah as "the Dixie Chicks of Bridge" when CBS welcomed three of them to the Early Show on Tuesday.
Team member Debbie Rosenberg explained that she held up the sign because, "It seemed like the right time to tell our friends from all over the world that we didn't agree with what was going on and we thought it was going to be a very well-received message there."
Jill Levin added that "from the international community [the response] was extremely positive. They enjoyed it. ... The French team came over, 'Jill, we loved you before, we love you even more now.'"
However, Levin added that the reactions from other Americans at the competition were more mixed. "I had some Americans that appreciated there might be some fallout from it but appreciated what we did as being a good message to have delivered to the international community. And there were some that appreciated right away that some would think it was totally inappropriate."
"I think it's been a great statement for democracy and a great example of the public speaking out," said Rosenberg. "We've had so many supporters writing to the USBF. I think they've really gotten the message and I believe today they're going to be announcing that they're dropping the charges against us."
Team captian Gail Greenberg insisted, "I was not criticizing President Bush as such. I was only trying to get across ... that we didn't agree with some of his policies, but we were very proud to be Americans."
Right-wing blogs have continued to criticize the women and accuse CBS of portraying them as victims. NewsBusters, whose slogan is "Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias," presented a detailed description and transcript of the Early Show segment, interspersed with comments such as "Isnít being anti-American fun?"
This video is from CBS's Early Show, broadcast on November 20.