High School Basketball Players to Rally After ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirt Ban

This photo provided by the Fort Bragg Advocate-News shows Mendocino High School girls basketball wearing the "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts before a recent game. (AP Photo/Fort Bragg Advocate-News, Chris Calder)
This photo provided by the Fort Bragg Advocate-News shows Mendocino High School girls basketball wearing the “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts before a recent game. (AP Photo/Fort Bragg Advocate-News, Chris Calder)

The members of a California high school basketball team barred from participating in a tournament because they continued to wear “I can’t breathe” T-shirts, plan a rally Monday, according to a local newspaper.

Members of the Mendocino High School girls basketball team will meet outside the Fort Bragg High School for what a poster said would be a peaceful exercise of free speech rights and to raise awareness of racism and police brutality, said the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

The coastal communities to the north of San Francisco were thrust into the national spotlight this weekend after the athletic director at Fort Bragg High School said that neither boys nor girls teams from Mendocino would be allowed to participate in the three-day tournament hosted by Fort Bragg out of concerns the players would wear T-shirts printed with the words “I can’t breathe.”

The phrase, uttered by Eric Garner as police wrestled the unarmed, black man to the ground in Staten Island, N.Y., leading to his death, has become one of the most prominent slogans among protesters who argue that Garner’s death and others are caused by entrenched police racism.

The Mendocino High School boys team was reinstated after all but one player agreed not to wear the T-shirts, which the high-school athletes had worn during warm-ups. Too few girls agreed.

Brian Triplett, the athletic director at Fort Bragg High, did not return a call and e-mail to the Associated Press seeking comment. Fort Bragg High Principal Rebecca Walker issued a written statement Friday saying school administrators respected the Mendocino teams “for paying attention to what is going on in the world around them” and that the T-shirts were being prohibited as a security precaution.

“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,” wrote Walker, who said she was speaking on behalf of the athletic director and the Fort Bragg school superintendent. “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.”

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SOURCE: USA Today / AP
Lisa Leff and Laura Mandaro

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