A Northern California high school reversed course on Monday after initially banning students from wearing “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts, Eric Garner’s famous last words, for warmups during a three-day basketball tournament. The students will be allowed to wear the politically-charged shirts so long as they do not incite violence or cause any problems at the tournament.
Several NBA players including LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving, recently wore shirts donning Eric Garner’s last words during warmups to protest his untimely demise. Garner died as a result of underlying health conditions that were further exacerbated by a choke hold that was administered upon him by a police officer with the New York Police Department.
The decision from Fort Bragg School District to reinstate the boys’ basketball team from Mendocino High School arrived just moments before First Amendment lawyer Karen Boyd was preparing to file a federal court motion arguing the school’s initial move violated the student-athletes’ right to free speech, according to the Associated Press. Boyd reportedly represents one of the students on the boys’ basketball team.
Fort Bragg School district lawyer Patrick Wilson said a major reason why Fort Bragg officials changed their tune was to avoid the cost of a legal battle, notes the AP. Yet, the school reportedly remained concerned that the shirts could cause a disruption since the community is still mourning the death of a local sheriff’s deputy shot and killed in March of this year.
“The concern is, you are in a packed auditorium, this is a polarizing issue and it’s about something that happened in New York,” Wilson said. “I think it’s fine for people to protest about it, but emotions are still raw in that area.”
The Mendocino girls’ basketball team was not allowed into the tournament because too few of them had originally agreed that they would not wear the “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts like almost every athlete on the the boys’ team had. Several members of the girls’ team reportedly rallied outside of Monday’s tournament, along with 100 supporters.
The mother of one of the female athletes told the AP that while she’s said her daughter would not be participating in the tournament, she was “so proud of them for becoming involved in these issues.”
Adelle Nazarian is on Twitter @AdelleNaz