FLASHBACK: When Hollywood Stars Stood Tall for Free Speech

20 years ago, Robbins and Sarandon fought back against 'Bull Durham' snub

Dissent was patriotic not too long ago.

We’re living in a frightening era when free speech is under attack, and the forces which once battled on its behalf have stepped down.

  • Academia
  • Hollywood
  • Journalism
  • The ACLU

It’s indisputable.

Hollywood’s inability to support open debate may be the most perplexing. Artists live and die by telling the stories they wish to tell and testing the First Amendment with their creative choices.

Yet few stars are willing to defend the very amendment that’s critical to their professions.

They’ve gone silent when stars like Gina Carano got canned for having the “wrong” opinions, say little about Cancel Culture’s pernicious impact and ignore the rise of sensitivity readers rewriting the works of beloved authors like Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl.

It wasn’t always this way.

In 2003, the Baseball Hall of Fame planned a celebration to honor “Bull Durham’s” 15th anniversary. The two-day event, slated for April 26-27 in Cooperstown, N.Y., got canceled due to recent, anti-war remarks from the film’s co-stars Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.

Bull Durham (1988) - Nuke Brings the Heat Scene (4/12) | Movieclips

Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey made the call, fearing the stars would turn the event into an anti-war screed. He alerted the duo, then a romantic couple, via a Fed Ex’d letter.

“There was a chance of politics being injected into the Hall during these sensitive times, and I made a decision to not take that chance,” Petroskey, who once served as White House assistant press secretary under President Reagan, said at the time.

That stoked a firestorm of comments both supporting and attacking the decision.

“You belong with the cowards and ideologues in a hall of infamy and shame,” Robbins said in reaction to the news.

He co-signed a blistering letter from the ACLU of New York slamming the cancellation.

Indeed, you offer a vision of free speech that is deeply incompatible with the concept of “uninhibited, robust and wide open” debate – a concept that is basic to our democracy. In essence, your fundamental position seems to be that criticism of the President should be suspended in times of war. You suggest that, because of these “sensitive” times “in our nation’s history”, criticism of the President is irresponsible in that “it undermines the U.S. position” and exposes “our troops to even more danger.” Your claim, however, ignores the possibility that criticism of the President in times of war might have a mediating effect which limits executive overreaching and might even save lives of Americans and Iraqis, combatants as well as civilians. The impact of dissent during times of war is, at the least, a debatable issue. But, there can be little debate about the kind of society in which we would be living if, indeed, there were no discussion and no dissent and if, instead, we all marched lock-step off to war in a paroxysm of patriotic fervor. It is not the kind of society that we would wish for ourselves or our children.

Petroskey eventually had a change of heart and apologized.

“I inadvertently did exactly what I was trying to avoid … with the advantage of hindsight, it is clear I should have handled the matter differently,” he said.

Robbins wasn’t satisfied.

“Because Petroskey’s actions resulted in a bipartisan, nationwide affirmation of free speech and the First Amendment, he has inadvertently done us all a favor,” Robbins said in response.


It’s hard to imagine a bipartisan groundswell for a modern free speech battle today. Yes, we’ve seen some modest victories on the free speech front, like the Stanford University dean who helped silence a visiting judge getting put on leave for her indefensible actions.

These moments rarely inspire academia, the media or Hollywood to rise in righteous fury as Robbins and Sarandon did 20 years ago. The modern Left is fully against free speech, and too many liberals fear the blowback from showing their support of the core American value.

Plus, there’s a greater chance of today’s stars trashing a free speech uprising. Need proof? How many stars cheered when former President Donald Trump got banned by most major social media platforms?

How many decried the censorial move?

Robbins has proven more consistent when it comes to free expression. He initially embraced the government’s pro-lockdown policies at the start of the pandemic, but he began questioning their value and later supported a more Democratic approach to the virus.


  1. The democrats along with their far left congregation realized that the best way to control a nation is to make them fearful of pushing back. Look at the rise of the alphabet mafia, the climate preachers, & war on white men. They want a weak, compliant population. And Hollywood follows whatever their democrat overlords tell them to do. When they step out of line, they get black listed.

    Big Business loves all this. A country full of meek citizens will buy whatever their cell phones tell them to. And the politicians fall in line with a few bribes. It will get worse, and probably never get better.

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