A high school in Mendocino County has banned visiting teams from participating in a basketball tournament because they previously wore shirts that read "I Can't Breathe" during warmups.
According to the AP, the boys and girls basketball teams from Mendocino High School were told by the athletic director of Fort Bragg High School that they would not be allowed to take part in a tournament hosted by Fort Bragg because of the shirts, which referenced the death of Eric Garner. Derrick Rose made headlines by being the first NBA player to wear the shirt, followed by the likes of LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The boys' team was allowed to play when all but one of their players agreed to not wear the shirts, but not enough members of the girls' team agreed in order to participate. Girls' coach Caedyn Feehan said the girls first wore the shirts against Fort Bragg on December 16 and never caused any trouble at successive games. "None of the administrators knew what it was or that any of them were doing it in advance. This was entirely for their cause that they had strong feelings about," said Feehan.
Feehan added this doozy of a quote, claiming ignorance: "I didn't even know what it meant. I thought it was a joke about how I had conditioned them so hard." Yikes.
The one player on the boys' team who will be sitting out of the tournament is 16-year-old Conor Woods, whose father Marc feels it's an infringement of his son's First Amendment rights and has notified the ACLU. "This is completely a First Amendment issue. That's why I'm offended," said Marc Woods.
School officials claim the issue is not about freedom of speech, but one of safety concerns. "We simply feel this issue is too emotionally charged to allow such a demonstration to happen in our tournament and be able to ensure the safety and well-being of all involved," said Fort Bragg's principal, according to the UK Guardian. Spectators protesting the school's decision will reportedly be asked to leave, as well.
A Supreme Court ruling has ensured students freedom of speech in public schools, but that has been tempered with subsequent cases, including a recent one where a student was disciplined for wearing a shirt that read "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS."
Actually "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS" would probably be more acceptable in Mendocino County than "I Can't Breathe."