In this public school story out of Ohio, the only ones who didn’t embarrass themselves were two suspended students.
When the Little Miami High School football team took the field in the Hamilton Township on September 11, one player carried a Thin Blue Line flag and another a Thin Red Line flag alongside the American flag. The boys, Brady Williams, and Jarad Bentley, were honoring their fathers as well as the first responders in the Twin Towers tragedy. Williams’ father is a police officer, and his son said he wanted to honor all the cops who lost their lives trying to save others on 9/11. Bentley’s father is a firefighter. “If it had been him killed on 9/11, I would have wanted someone to do it for him,” he said.
The gesture got both students suspended indefinitely. Their mistake, according to school officials: asking for permission, and carrying the flags on the field anyway after they were turned down. “We can’t have students who decide to do something anyway after they’ve been told that they shouldn’t be doing it,” said the school’s athletic director. But why was a gesture of respect to first responders deemed inappropriate on the anniversary of the attacks? The athletic director says he saw the flags as political, presumably in the context of the George Floyd Freakout. “We did not want to place ourselves in a circumstance where another family might want a different flag to come out of the tunnel, one that may be [one that] many other families may not agree with from a political perspective,” he said.
I wonder if a student carrying a Black Lives Matter flag would have been treated as harshly. (No I don’t.)
The students told reporters that they were prepared to be punished for defying the school, and were willing to accept the consequences in order to salute police and firefighters.
The indefinite suspension lasted all of one day. It was quickly reversed by the school board after the story went national. There was a demonstration in support of the suspended players outside the school along with almost a million protesting emails and social media posts sent the school’s way. The school board released a statement saying its investigation showed they boys did not have political motivations and they would be returned to active status.
Yes, the school board required an “investigation” to convince them that honoring police and firefighters on 9-11 wasn’t “political.”
- The two boys are in the clear. They properly asked permission to display the flags, were denied, and concluding that the denial was unjust, engaged in civil disobedience to make a point. Perfect. They called attention to craven and incompetent school management as well as engaging in an unassailable gesture honoring their fathers’ professions on a day on which doing so is natural and appropriate.
- We know why the boys proposal was ruled “political.” They were two white boys, and the weenie athletic director was worried that a Black Lives Matter mob would arrive on his front yard, because if you aren’t calling cops racist killers, you’re promoting systemic racism. Or he was worried that black players on the team would demand to carry out a BLM flag in the next game. His decision was ethically incompetent, because he didn’t play Ethics Chess, and discern what the next likely moves would be if the players brought out the flags anyway. The publicity was predictable, and the protests were predictable.
- “With everything that’s going on with the NFL and what they’re doing, and then they pull this on those kids?” said one local resident to reporters. Bingo. How could the school not see that observation coming?
- Suspending or otherwise punishing students for defying a school directive not to carry the flags, however, was still necessary and appropriate. The indefinite suspension was excessively harsh; it could and should have been reduced. If the boys’ punishment had been relatively minor and symbolic, the whole foofaraw might have been avoided.
- Instead, the school board abandoned the punishment entirely, sending the unmistakable message that as long as enough people complain, it will abandon its principles…unlike Brady Williams, and Jarad Bentley.