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High school athletes banned for wearing ‘I can’t breathe’ shirts

Professional athletes around the national have stood in solidarity with those protesting Eric Garner’s death by wearing T-shirts that say, “I can’t breathe.” When high school athletes tried to wear similar shirts in silent protest during a basketball tournament, they were told to remove them or face being banned from playing.

Basketball players from Mendocino High School were confronted by the athletic director of rival Fort Bragg High School, the tournament host, and told that they were being kicked out of the tournament. Players from both the girls’ and boys’ teams had worn the shirts during warm-ups at previous games and tournaments at other schools with no issues.

“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 High School Principal Rebecca C. Walker, who evidently felt that silent protest by student athletes in regard to a nationwide crisis might spark some kind of spontaneous violence at a high school basketball game.

Most members of the boys’ team promised not to wear the shirts at the tournament, and were allowed to play. The girls’ team remained banned after many female players refused to negotiate. Members of the girls’ team plan on protesting peacefully today during the tournament.

After members of the community responded negatively to the students’ protests, they released the following statement:

“The Mendocino High School Varsity girls and boys basketball teams made the decision to wear the shirts without the initial encouragement of any parent, coach or other adult. We, the players, wanted to express our support for the people who face prejudices, racism, and police brutality daily in our country and convey our concern about these injustices to the public.” Only 1 percent of students at both schools are black.

Instead of banning these students from playing, perhaps the administration and other supervising adults should have questioned why a simple slogan of protest felt so dangerous. We should be applauding young men and women who were willing to face criticism and punishment for raising awareness of a national issue we can’t afford to ignore.

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