Two high school football players have been reinstated to their team after they were suspended for carrying “thin blue line” and “thin red line” flags onto the field before a recent game.
The suspensions of cornerback Brady Williams and linebacker Jared Bentley, who attend Little Miami High School in southwest Ohio, resulted in an online petition calling for their reinstatement that was signed by more than 19,000 people, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. The school district said Monday the students were suspended because they had asked school officials for permission to carry the flags, but were told no.
On Tuesday, a statement from the Little Miami school board said it had concluded an investigation into the incident and determined the students were not motivated politically, WCPO Channel 9 reports. However, the statement says “there were stances of insubordination.”
Scott Williams, the father of Brady Williams and a Warren County sheriff’s deputy, tells WLWT Channel 5 were not given a definitive answer on whether they could carry the flags. Bentley’s father is a firefighter.
“The athletic director who called my son in the day of the game said, ‘I can’t tell you yes. I can’t tell you no. We can’t take a position either way on you carrying the flag.’ So, he carried the flag,” Scott Williams tells WLWT.
However, the Enquirer reports that district spokesperson Melinda Briggs says the players were told they could not bring the flags onto the field. Briggs says the district is still trying to determine how the players obtained the flags in the locker room.
The district did hold a ceremony before Friday’s game honoring first responders and the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“We regret that such a moment of solemnity was somehow lost in this event,” Little Miami school board President Bobbie Grice tells the Enquirer. Little Miami Superintendent Gregory Power tells Local 12 he received hate emails and voicemails because of the players’ suspension.
The district says that in future games, the only two flags allowed to be carried onto the field will be the U.S. flag and the Little Miami spirit flag, Fox 19 reports.
The incident at Little Miami is similar to a controversy at Chardon High School. A player carried a ‘thin blue line’ flag onto the field before a game, leading the superintendent to ban the flag, saying the school district policy doesn’t permit engaging in political activity.
The “thin blue line flag” has been used a symbol of support and solidarity with members of law enforcement for decades. But in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and amid the Black Lives Matter movement, the flag has become polarizing. As a symbol of the pro-police Blue Lives Matter group, critics say the flag — a black-and-white American flag with a royal blue stripe — can be racist, representing a division between police and the communities they serve.
The “thin red line” flag is meant to honor firefighters injured or killed while on duty.
A rally supporting the two Little Miami players is being planned before the team’s next home game on Sept. 25.
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