Student Well-Being

High School Reverses Ban on ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Shirts at Basketball Tournament

By Bryan Toporek — December 30, 2014 1 min read

This past week, a Northern California high school made national waves by banning a local school’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams from participating in a three-day tournament unless they agreed not to don T-shirts with the words “I Can’t Breathe” during warm-ups, according to Lisa Leff of The Associated Press.

On Monday, however, the school did an about face, allowing the students to wear the shirts during warm-ups “as long as they do not cause problems,” Leff reported.

The Mendocino High School girls’ basketball team first wore the “I Can’t Breathe” shirts before a game against Fort Bragg High School on Dec. 16, roughly one week after Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose became the first professional athlete to wear such a shirt during pregame warm-ups. The shirt refers to the final words of Eric Garner, the New York man who died over the summer after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer.

Last week, Fort Bragg’s athletic director reached out to Mendocino to say that their boys’ and girls’ basketball teams would not be allowed to participate in the three-day tournament beginning Monday, according to Leff. All but one of the boys’ basketball players agreed not to wear the shirts, which earned their reinstatement, but not enough of the girls’ players made a similar agreement, causing Fort Bragg to find another team to replace them.

“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,” Fort Bragg Principal Rebecca Walker wrote in a statement Friday, per Leff. “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.”


The Mendocino basketball players released their own statement,

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.