High School Basketball Team Kicked Out Of Tournament For Wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Shirts


Two high school basketball teams were disinvited to a holiday tournament in northern California because of worries that they’d wear t-shirts saying, “I Can’t Breathe,” during warm-ups. This happened despite the fact that these shirts have not caused problems for the schools before — and even pro players have worn similar shirts with no issues.

According to The Guardian, the boys’ team was later reinstated, but the girls’ team remains disinvited, because too few of the girls agreed not to wear the shirts. Only one member of the boys’ team refused to agree, and he’s staying home. The principal at Ft. Bragg High School, which is hosting the tournament, said:

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To protect the safety and well-being of all tournament participants it is necessary to ensure that all political statements and or protests are kept away from this tournament. We are a small school district that simply does not have the resources to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff, students and guests at the tournament should someone get upset and choose to act out.

That could make some sense, and might seem like a reasonable precaution. However, The Guardian says that they wore the shirts before a game against Ft. Bragg High earlier this month, which didn’t cause any problems. Since this isn’t the first time the teams have worn the shirts, there’s a huge question mark on that statement.

According to The Nation, black students make up 1% of the student body at Ft. Bragg High School. So if there weren’t any problems before, why the problem now? Is it a worry that the predominantly white population at Ft. Bragg will find the shirts too upsetting, because of the racial overtones? One parent is upset, and sees this as violating freedom of speech. He’s especially angry given that the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers said he wasn’t going to stop his players from wearing the shirts, due to freedom of speech.

One could interpret this as an intimidation technique, or a method of suppressing speech, on the part of Ft. Bragg High. It would make a lot more sense if the shirts had caused problems before, and especially if they’d caused problems the last time these specific teams played. But since nothing happened, then what’s the deal? Perhaps Ft. Bragg High School doesn’t see this tournament the same as the other games, but for young people trying to make a statement, that can be difficult to understand.

The Nation’s author, Dave Zirin, ended his piece with this:

The stand that many of these players are taking teaches a far more important than a school giving a lesson in bullying. Mendocino High School deserves our support as well as a clear signal that they are not alone. We should let them know that their community should be proud of every player, especially on the girls’ team, for giving a damn.

He raises a good point. Also, what are we teaching these children? There’s a chance that the lesson they’ll take away from this is that “safety and security” is a good lie to tell when you’re trying to take away someone’s Constitutionally-protected freedom. That’s especially true when there’s nothing to back up the administration’s feeling that the shirts are a safety and security risk. Is that really what we want to teach?

H/T MTV News | Featured image via The Nation

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