High School Bans 'I Can't Breathe' T-Shirts From Basketball Tournament

Administrators at a Northern California high school recently banned a student basketball team from participating in a three-day tournament because some of the players were planning to wear T-shirts reading "I Can’t Breathe," the last words of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man killed when police put him in a chokehold earlier this year.

In a statement provided to the AP last week, the principal at Fort Bragg High School said that school administrators respected the student-athletes at nearby Mendocino High for "paying attention to what is going on in the world around them” but added that the T-shirts were banned from the basketball tournament as a security precaution. Anyone at the tournament protesting the school’s decision will reportedly be asked to leave.

Both the boys and girls basketball teams at Mendocino High School wore the shirts without incident at a game with Fort Bragg earlier this month. However, the teams’ athletic director was informed last week that they would not be allowed to participate in the three-day tournament unless they promised not to wear the T-shirts. The boys’ team was reinstated in the tournament after all but one player agreed to the request. However, too few of the female athletes accepted the deal, so the girls’ team will not be allowed to participate.

Several NBA stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving have worn similar shirts on the court during warmups.

Meanwhile, police unions have called for the NFL to discipline players who have walked onto the field with their hands in the air, a pose used by protestors in Ferguson, Missouri where Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, was fatally shot by a white policeman this summer.

The father of the Mendocino High basketball player who refused not to wear the T-shirt, told the AP that this was a free speech issue and that he had notified the American Civil Liberties Union about the incident.

Fort Bragg High is 50 percent white and 41 percent Hispanic. Mendocino High is 75 percent white and 9 percent Hispanic.

The coach of the Mendocino girls’ basketball team told the AP she wasn’t even aware that the T-shirts were related to the death of Eric Garner.

“I thought it was a joke about how I had conditioned them so hard,” she said. “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."

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