*The “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt movement may have received support from pro and college basketball players, but high school students playing in an upcoming basketball tournament will not be among those wearing the apparel.
The Associated Press reports that members of the boys and girls Mendocino High School basketball teams have been banned from wearing the “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts during warm-ups at the Vern Piver Holiday Classic tournament amid security concerns.
Mendocino Unified School District Superintendent Jason Morse told the news agency that the athletic director at Fort Bragg High School notified his Mendocino High School counterpart this week that neither the boys nor girls team would be allowed to participate in the three-day tournament. The event, which kicks off today (Dec. 29), will be hosted by Fort Bragg High.
News of the teams’ ban comes days after Mendocino varsity teams first wore the “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts before a game with Fort Bragg on Dec. 16. According to girls coach Caedyn Feehan, team members didn’t receive any reaction after they wore the t-shirts before games at two other tournaments.
“I didn’t even know what it meant. I thought it was a joke about how I had conditioned them so hard,” Feehan told the AP. “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.”
Despite the notification,the Mendocino High boys were reinstated after all but one player agreed not to wear the shirts while on the Fort Bragg High campus during the tournament. As for the girls, Morse said not enough players on their team accepted the condition in order to play.
Mendocino High’s plight is the latest development in the continuing saga of the “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts. “I can’t breathe” were the last words spoken by Eric Garner, who died after a Staten Island police officer put him in a chokehold. Those wearing the t-shirts include NBA stars LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and Kobe Bryant.
In a written statement issued Friday, Fort Bragg High principle Rebecca Walker emphasized that a security precaution was the reason the t-shirts were being banned.
“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 Bruce Triplett, the school’s 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.”
Although Walker admitted that school administrators respected the Mendocino teams “for paying attention to what is going on in the world around them,” the ban didn’t sit well with Marc Woods, whose son Connor plans on sitting out the tournament.
The father told the AP that he has taken the issue to the American Civil Liberties Union, and hopes to hear back from them after the holidays.