An Ohio school district has lifted a suspension on two football players after they were initially punished for running onto the field while waving flags honoring police officers and firefighters.
Brady Williams, a cornerback at Little Miami High School whose father is a police officer, and Jared Bentley, a linebacker at the school whose dad is a firefighter, carried a Thin Blue Line flag and a Thin Red Line flag, respectively, in commemoration of the police officers and firefighters who died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, WKRC reported.
Video showed them running onto the field prior to their game Friday, which landed on the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
School officials said the boys had asked in advance to fly the flags and were told no, but they did it anyway.
Brady’s mother said the boys were informed Monday afternoon by Loveland Athletic Director Brian Conatser that they had been suspended “indefinitely.”
“Listen,” Brady told WKRC. “I don’t care what my consequences are. So long as my message gets across, I’ll be happy.”
Little Miami Superintendent Gregory Power initially explained that the district didn’t want to set a precedent by allowing messages that could be deemed political.
“We can’t have students who decide to do something anyway after they’ve been told that they shouldn’t be doing it,” Mr. Power told the station. “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.”
The controversy caught the attention of Donald Trump Jr., President Trump’s son, who called the suspension “outrageous.”
“It’s outrageous that these students were punished for celebrating our amazing police officers,” he tweeted. “They showed real courage standing up for what they thought was right. Does anyone think @LM_Schools would have suspended them if they came out with BLM flags??? #BlueLivesMatter.”
Little Miami school board President Bobbie Grice said Tuesday that the suspension has since been lifted after conducting an investigation.
“The results show that there were no political motivations behind this display of support for first responders on 9/11, but there were stances of insubordination,” Mr. Grice said, WKRC reported. “Moving forward, Little Miami is returning the players to active status and this matter will be addressed as an Athletic Department Code of Conduct issue, with any potential consequences to be handled by coaching staff.”
Moving forward, only the American flag and the Little Miami spirit flag will be allowed to come through the tunnel the rest of the football season, he said.
“Little Miami Local Schools is saddened to see this story take such a negative turn,” Mr. Grice said. “The district enjoys an outstanding relationship with our local police and fire agencies.”
Retired firefighter Perry Denehy organized a group that waved the Thin Blue Line and Thin Red Line flags in front of the school in support of the boys earlier Tuesday.
“I’m sure the community is standing behind [the boys], and thanks to those two boys, patriotism is alive and well,” Mr. Denehy told the station.
Brady’s mother spoke to WKRC after her son’s suspension was lifted, saying, “He’s a little emotionally drained, but he’ll come through this stronger in the end.”
“Definitely a character-building time in his life and it’s definitely not something he’ll ever forget,” she said.
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