The following is a chronological collection of stories and comment arising from Fort Bragg High School's "disinvitation" of Mendocino High School's girl's and boy's basketball teams because the Mendocino teams planned to wear I Can't Breath shirts to protest the death of Eric Garner, a black man choked to death by a New York policeman. The ensuing controversy over the ban of the two Mendocino teams has become a national and even international story. It all began last week when the Elk-based blogger, Paul McCarthy, discovered that Mendocino High School had been informed that their basketball teams wouldn't be welcome at the tournament, which began Monday, and is dedicated to the memory of the late Vern Piver.
On Christmas Day, McCarthy reported on his MendocinoSportsPlus blog:
The MSP message box has been crammed with messages like this one: "Not sure if you have heard but our teams have been uninvited to the holiday classic. Fort Bragg tourney officials felt that if Mendo were to wear the [“I Can’t Breathe”] shirts it could be a public safety issue so felt it best we not participate."
Here's another: "Did you hear Mendocino got kicked out of the Holiday Classic? Just a bit of true holiday spirit I guess. What better way to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace..."
MSP will be sending out emails to the Mendo coaches, MUSD Superintendent Jason Morse and the tournament to confirm this rumor.
The Mendocino basketball teams unveiled "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts when they played Fort Bragg in the Archer Anderson gym (Fort Bragg) December 16th. The phrase has become ubiquitous at protests and rallies after a New York jury declined to indict a New York City police officer in the death of Eric Garner, who was heard saying “I can't breathe” during an altercation with law enforcement before he died. Athletes have been seen wearing a black T-shirt with the phrase written in white.
Protesters supporting police have even been seen wearing “I Can Breathe” T-shirts, as a nod to law enforcement.
MSP is the only news outlet to post about this “coast controversy.” We've had more than 70,000 unique views on our original post and hundreds of comments
From MSP 'Rumor Central':
Tourney Will Ban 'Any One' Wearing 'I Can't Breathe' T-Shirts —
MSP is trying to get an "official" response on the banning from Mendocino from the annual Vern Piver "Holiday Basketball Classic" because they "might" wear the "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts they wore December 16th in Fort Bragg.
From what we understand, Mendo was "given the boot" from the (Fort Bragg) tournament and no tourney official even ASKED the [Mendocino] Cardinal teams to “not wear” the shirts at the tourney.
MSP UPDATE (Wednesday, 8:53AM) Heard back from Mendocino Head Coach Jim Young (thank you coach) who wrote: "The boys were informed they were out after we complied with FB's requests."
We also heard from one source, who wished anonymity, that said (tourney officials) "…said NO ONE could wear the shirts in the gym, not just the players but spectators also wouldn't be allowed in the gym if they wore their shirts because it would create an unsafe environment."
So much for freedom of speech.
Wonder if tourney officials will issue a list of "approved" t-shirts before the tourney slated to start December 29th — and if emails have been sent to participating teams informing them of "proper" attire for the tournament?
Mendocino High Club Cardinal President Douna Scarmaglia posted: "I have been asked if, as President of the booster club, we purchased these shirts. Fair question as we purchase all other uniforms."
The answer was "NO."
Apparently a parent of one of the Mendo players was responsible for the printing of the t-shirts.
Also today, Mendocinosportsplus posted the resignation letter from Mendo High School Booster Club president, Douna Scramaglia:
In reaction to the school administration's lack of response regarding the recent wearing of 'I Can't Breathe' t-shirts by the Mendocino varsity basketball teams during warmups in Archer Anderson gym (Fort Bragg) on December 16.
Earlier this week the teams were 'uninvited' from the Vern Piver Basketball Classic (to be held next week) by Fort Bragg High tournament officials who later relented and re-invited the boys team with the condition they not wear the 'I Can't Breathe' t-shirts at any time during the three-day tourney.
Nine of the ten members of the team agreed NOT to wear the shirts, one refused but will not be sanctioned by the team for not appearing in the tourney.
The Mendo girls team, as far as we could ascertain, was not given this same option. Tourney officials warned spectators from Mendocino who wear the 'I Can't Breathe' t-shirts will be 'asked to leave or escorted from the premises,' according to a letter to the team.
There has been talk the northern California ACLU has been, or will be, consulted regarding the matter.
Ms. Scramaglia, a tireless, long time fixture (and financial suporter) on the Mendo High sports scene, assumed the position of Club Cardinal president last Spring when Joe Pescini stepped down.
Here's the letter (from Ms. Scramaglia) sent to Club Cardinal members Christmas Eve afternoon:
Hello to All, Please accept this as my official letter of resignation from Club Cardinal. It has become apparent to me this past week that my vision of what Club Cardinal is and what it has become does not align with my personal political views which should never come in to play within our organization if we had the proper leadership in our school administration. I sent out a letter to our board and top school administrators on Monday and the only person to respond was Sonya. To me this shows a huge lack of respect for me and our Club as this issue has become a VERY volatile issue within our coastal community as well as nearby communities. To sit back and do nothing has done irreparable harm to many. Of course we all have our right to Freedom of Speech but we also have to suffer the consequences of how others may react and weigh if the consequences of our actions outweigh the message we are trying to convey. For me, I have always felt that our student athletes are a representative of our school and our community. The message or impression that they leave is a reflection of us all. I do not post political campaign signs at my business for one simple reason...it is not the opinion of all the people at Sport Chrysler Jeep Dodge. I do not give money to political campaigns for fear of alienating certain groups. I try to be inclusive of all. I can not be a part of an organization that makes political statements that leave others questioning my beliefs or values because I have association to the group. I have no problem with those students wearing political billboards anywhere else other than the court. I have had many people assume since Club Cardinal purchases school apparel and uniforms that these were purchased by us as well. I now feel I am defending something that should have never been an issue within our organization. We can all hide behind the message and say it wasn't directed at local law enforcement, but we have been made well aware that it has offended local law enforcement as well as our student families. There are children being bullied by their decision to not wear the shirts. Being a part of these types of decisions are not what I stand for. That being said, I have no hard feelings towards anyone in our Club, I just feel the Club no longer serves the purpose for what I have been striving for. I am fighting to keep athletics in our school and now our athletes are being denied to play because of a few people. The people who have made athletics possible for our students now feel our students disrespect them. That saddens me. It may not have been the intention, but it is the reality. We all make choices in life and I just hope that this decision was one that these kids will look back on and feel the effect justified the cause. I will not be doing basketball concessions as previously committed, nor will I be attending any future Club Cardinal meetings. Thank you for allowing me the time on the board, it has been a pleasure, it just no longer aligns with my beliefs as a board member.
Sincerely, Douna Scramaglia
And more fallout on the I Can't Breathe controversy from Mendosportsplus:
MSP Contacts ACLU Over 'Coast Christmas Controversy'
MSP has an email in to see if, as reported to us in a message, people have contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (northern California) office about the legality of Fort Bragg High school banning spectators from wearing "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts at the upcoming Vern Piver Memorial Basketball Classic. Our email to ACLU Communications Director Rebecca Farmer received an automated reply she was "on vacation from December 22 - January 2." It did leave her cell phone number where "reporters on deadline" can leave messages — which we did — telling her to check her email. Will report back when we hear anything.
Former MUSD Trustee Tom Hudson Weighs In On Coast Christmas Controversy Stands By 'Banned' Lady Cardinals On Issue Of T-Shirts
Friend of MSP, former Mendocino School Board trustee and "all league" good guy Tom Hudson wrote the following letter (posted @ 12:45 pm) to recently resigned Club Cardinal resident Douna Scramaglia:
I hope you can accept my difference of opinion respecting your email and resignation. What jumps out at me is that the FBUSD was presented with a golden opportunity to teach its students and community what the First Amendment means in a real-life scenario and to lead its community through rational problem-solving, but they dropped the ball. Instead it chose to allow the shunning of 30 or so of our children, yes I said "children". These children have proven by the lives that they have led that they are kind, considerate, bright, honest, hard-working and reliable. They deserved better than the treatment they have received from their adult neighbors. It is interesting to note the First Amendment was adopted on December 15th, 1791. It just celebrated its 223rd birthday. The Amendment prohibits "....the making of any law....abridging the freedom of speech...". The courts have made it clear that the protection of political and social speech is the most deserving. Examples of protected "free speech" are (a) a jacket inscribed "F... the draft", (b) all sorts of political and social brochures, (c) flag burning, (d) false claims of military service and/or honors, and much, much more. In 1969 the Supreme Court specified that the First Amendment extended free speech rights to school children who were punished for wearing armbands to protest the war. In that opinion, Justice Fortas, wrote that "....it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate...school officials do not possess absolute authority over their students." The moral of the story is the wearing of these shirts is fully within the scope of the First Amendment and these children deserve 100% support from their school and their community. That all being said, there are those who found offense in these shirts. The loss of Deputy Ricky [del Fiorentino] is still a viable pain for this community and deserves consideration. FBUSD and MUSD deserve recognition for finally working out a reasonable accommodation. Even so, the idea that our MHS girls' team must yield their First Amendment rights as a condition to play the game is not a legal or commendable result and I for one stand with these girls. For over 200 years, US soldiers and sailors have been dying all over the world in defense of this country (and others), in defense of US citizens (including teenagers) and the values we have set including the First Amendment. We don't do honor for them or Ricky Del Fiorentino by shunning these children who have done no wrong and only want to stand up for the saving of lives in a context no adult I know has magic answers for. Please reconsider your resignation and instead be among those who try to rein in all of this negative momentum. Thank you.
Sincerely, Tom Hudson
From Kevin Drum At Mother Jones:
It shouldn't be too hard to hold two thoughts in our minds at once.
Thought #1: Police officers have an inherently tough and violent job. Split-second decisions about the use of force come with the territory. Ditto for decisions about who to stop and who to keep an eye on. This makes individual mistakes inevitable, but as a group, police officers deserve our support and respect regardless.
Thought #2: That support shouldn't be blind. Conlin reports that in her group of 25 black police officers, 24 said they had received rough treatment from other cops [when out of uniform]. “The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.
* * *
Fort Bragg High School's admin is looking more and more foolish:
Below is a joint statement from myself, Fort Bragg High School Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Bruce Triplett, and Fort Bragg Unified School District Superintendent Charles Bush:
After much discussion with the administration of Mendocino Unified, we decided that in order 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. We request that all participants respect our position in creating an atmosphere of political neutrality that is centered on friendly and healthy competition among young athletes. 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.
We applaud Mendocino basketball players for paying attention to what is going on in the world around them, and being willing to take a position that is in line with their beliefs. However, given the recent incidents involving the death of a law enforcement officer in our community, 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. We simply do not have the resources to protect those involved should the situation become aggressive or physical.
Every school district that is participating in the event has been asked by our Athletic Director to respect our request to maintain a politically neutral environment while participating in this tournament. We want all athletes who wish to participate to have the opportunity to do so, but as the hosts of the event we also need to ensure that we can protect the safety and well-being of everyone in attendance. The only way that is possible is to make this event politically neutral and ask that all involved put their personal beliefs about a situation that occurred on the other side of our country on hold for the short time they are participating. If a team cannot or is unwilling to do that, we have no other choice but to exclude them from the event.— Rebecca C. Walker, Principal Fort Bragg High School.
Fort Bragg Ban Goes National.
McCarthy's great reporting was soon appropriated by the national and international media, from AP to the New York Times to the Guardian of London.
Ms. Leff's report, which follows was then appropriated by the national and international media:
Fort Bragg High asks team from Mendocino to stay home over T-shirts
By Lisa Leff, Associated Press, December 27, 2014
A high school basketball tournament in Fort Bragg has become the latest flashpoint in the ongoing protests over police killings of unarmed black men after a team from Mendocino High School was disinvited because of concerns its players would wear T-shirts printed with the words “I Can’t Breathe” during warmups.
The athletic director for Mendocino High was informed by his counterpart at Fort Bragg High School this week that neither the boys nor girls teams would be allowed to participate in the three-day tournament hosted by Fort Bragg High starting Monday, Mendocino Unified School District Superintendent Jason Morse said.
The boys were reinstated after all but one player agreed not to wear the shirts inspired by the last words of Eric Garner, the New York man who died after an officer put him in a chokehold, while on the Fort Bragg campus during the Vern Piver Holiday Classic tournament, Morse said. Too few girl players accepted the condition for the team to field a tournament squad, he said.
Bruce Triplett, the athletic director at Fort Bragg High, did not return a call and email seeking comment. 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.”
Mendocino varsity teams first wore the “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts before a game with Fort Bragg on Dec. 16, according to the girls coach, Caedyn Feehan. The girls also wore them before games at two other tournaments and didn’t receive any blowback, Feehan said.
“I didn’t even know what it meant. I thought it was a joke about how I had conditioned them so hard,” Feehan 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.”
Professional basketball players such as LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts during warmups this month without repercussions from the NBA. After Kobe Bryant and other Laker player wore them before a game and on the bench on Dec. 9, coach Byron Scott said he viewed it as a matter of “freedom of choice and freedom of speech.”
That’s how Marc Woods, whose 16-year-old son Connor plans to sit out the tournament, sees it. Connor wore the T-shirt at the Dec. 16 game in the name of team solidarity, but “now that’s become a First Amendment violation, that’s what he is fired up about,” the father said.
Woods, whose father was a California Highway Patrol officer, said he is outraged by what he sees as using intimidation to silence players and fans. Fort Bragg administrators have warned spectators who plan to protest the T-shirt ban that they will be asked to leave, he said.
“It doesn’t take a lot to suppress the exchange of ideas when you put fear into it,” Woods said.
Both schools are located in Mendocino County, known for redwood forests, rugged coastline and marijuana-growing, located 120 miles north of San Francisco. The student bodies at the two schools are 1 percent black and 50 percent white and 41 percent Hispanic at Fort Bragg, 75 percent white and 9 percent Hispanic at Mendocino.
A county sheriff’s deputy, Ricky Del Fiorentino, was killed in March by a man suspected of murder and carjacking in Eugene, Ore. The suspect, Ricardo Antonio Chaney, later engaged in a shootout with a Fort Bragg police officer before shooting himself in the head.
Walker referenced Del Fiorentino’s death, saying “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.”
* * *
This statement appeared on the Press Democrat's comment line: "I have my own personal opinion about the Garner case, as well as the others, but those don't trump our freedom of speech. I can understand banning some things for safety reasons but please explain how some kids at a high school sporting event, who were expressing themselves with a non-violent phrase in a non-violent manner, are risking anything? It's a sticky situation and a polarizing topic but as much as I can't stand certain opinions I would never censor them due too my belief in the Constitution of the United States of America and our bill of rights!" (Christina Styles)
FORBES MAGAZINE COMMENTED under the title: 'I Can't Play' — High School Athletes Face Backlash for Eric Garner-Inspired T-Shirts'
"It’s not just pro athletes wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts in the wake of the death of Eric Garner. You’re probably familiar with his name and that phrase, which he exclaimed as he was in what would be a fatal chokehold by a New York Police Department officer, thus becoming shorthand for many protests nationwide against perceived police brutality, especially toward African-Americans such as Garner.
The black T-shirts with white Comic Sans lettering have appeared on the pregame warmup bodies of such NBA stars as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, and they also recently have made their way to high school players as well. For example, the girls basketball team at the Patrick School in New Jersey broke them out during its recent season opener. The shirts aren’t hard to get a hold of: at my local mall, I’ve seen at least two stands selling them. That made me wonder whether a cry of protest quickly was being reduced to a saleable commodity.
The reaction to the “I Can’t Breathe” shirts at one northern California high school tells me the shirts haven’t yet lost their power. From CBS San Francisco:
“A high school basketball tournament on the Northern California coast has become the latest flashpoint in the ongoing protests over police killings of unarmed black men after a school was disinvited because of concerns its players would wear T-shirts printed with the words ‘I Can’t Breathe’ during warmups. The athletic director for Mendocino High School was informed by his counterpart at Fort Bragg High School this week that neither the boys nor girls teams would be allowed to participate in the three-day tournament hosted by Fort Bragg High starting Monday, Mendocino Unified School District Superintendent Jason Morse said. The boys were reinstated after all but one player agreed not to wear the shirts inspired by the last words of Eric Garner, the New York man who died after an officer put him in a chokehold, while on the Fort Bragg campus during the Vern Piver Holiday Classic tournament, Morse said. Too few girl players accepted the condition for the team to field a tournament squad, he said.”
"While the most visible players on any level wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts are African-American, Mendocino’s overwhelmingly are not. The school is 75 percent white, 9% Hispanic and 1% black, according to CBS San Francisco. Fort Bragg is also only 1 percent black, though it is 41 percent Hispanic and 50 percent white.
"The ban takes me back to my college media law course, in which the professor (who also wrote the book we studied) introduced us to Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case that has been the bellwether for all school dress court cases that have followed. Basically, the Tinker kids were allowed to wear their anti-Vietnam War armbands because the First Amendment applied to school, and that schools could only restrict expression based on whether it was truly disruptive, not whether it merely made people uncomfortable or conflicted with the administration’s or community’s prevailing views.
"I’ve seen no indication (yet) that anyone at Mendocino will try to bring the Tinker case to bear on Fort Bragg’s decision. For one thing, the conflicts don’t often make it to court, for many reasons (the Tinkers didn’t sue the school district until others picked up the conflict on their behalf). And there are all sorts of conflicts going on where the fight is in the inimitable court of public opinion, such as the Arkansas eighth-grader told she couldn’t wear a shirt stating, “Virginity Rocks,” or the Arlington, Texas, high school that banned a football team T-shirt whose message seemed to endorse rape.
Or school teachers in Staten Island — where Eric Garner was accosted by police and died — told by their union that the New York Department of Education would likely take action against them if they wore pro-New York Police Department T-shirts to school. This warning came in September, two months before a grand jury refused to indict anyone in connection with Garner’s death, and two police were killed in Brooklyn, deaths many officers believed were a direct result of protests against them.
"As a writer, my sympathies naturally lie in more speech, not less, despite every YouTube comment thread. The protests against, and the support of, police have nuances that not everyone involved appreciate at first glance. (Speaking of nuances, the one boys’ player who refuses to not wear an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt is the son of a California Highway Patrol officer.)
"If Mendocino High wanted to wear “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts, let the chips fall where they may. It’s a good lesson in expressing opinions, especially realizing what happens when you’re speaking them to an unsupportive crowd. If nothing else, the gesture could perhaps educate people in their own community as to the issues involved, because despite LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, not everyone knows what “I Can’t Breathe” means. Again, from CBS San Francisco:
“Mendocino varsity teams first wore the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirts before a game with Fort Bragg on Dec. 16, according to the girls coach, Caedyn Feehan. The girls also wore them before games at two other tournaments and didn’t receive any blowback, Feehan said. ‘I didn’t even know what it meant. I thought it was a joke about how I had conditioned them so hard,’ Feehan 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’.”
The Mendocino Girls Varsity issued a public letter, via MSP, 'To Mendo Sheriff Assoc. & To All ‘Concerned Citizens’
It has come to our attention that members of our local law enforcement felt ‘discouraged and disrespected’ by our participation in a non-violent national protest. We have worn shirts during the warm-up at recent basketball games that say ‘I Can’t Breathe’.
Although the Association did not contact us directly, the statements made on its Facebook page regarding the subject state that they interpreted our shirts as a protest to our local Sheriffs. Some of us and many of our parents personally knew Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino. He was the best example of a law enforcement officer who knew how to calm down tense situations peacefully. Our protest has nothing to do with exemplary officers like Deputy Del Fiorentino.
"We are saddened that the message we are trying to send has been misconstrued, but understand that by choosing to wear our shirts we were getting involved in a very real and controversial issue.
Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by law enforcement officials. His last words during the incident, ‘I can’t breathe,’ have become a slogan that has gained momentum and media attention after members of the NBA, as well as entire college and high school basketball teams wore shirts with this slogan during their warm-ups.
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.
We are fortunate to live in a community in which these type of wrongs are uncommon, and respect our local law enforcement officers fully. We appreciate police officers and their difficult and sometimes dangerous job, but at the same time we condemn police brutality that does exist in our country and feel even small communities like ours should promote awareness of such crucial matters.
Respectfully, Kiera Poehlmann, Jin Jackson, Scott Duncan, Emily Symonds, Michaela Hubbard, Naomi Baker, Isobel Hall, Sean Symonds, Connor Woods, Emily Miller, Isaiah Graham, Aimee Gordon, Cypress Bodaly
Monday morning, with a First Amendment attorney threaten to sue, the Fort Bragg school administration reversed its ban on T-shirts reading “I Can’t Breathe,” telling media that the Mendocino girls could wear the shirts during warm-ups "so long as they do not cause problems."
And everyone went back to sleep.