High school football players suspended for carrying thin blue and red line flags onto football field

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MORROW, OH – Service above self.  It was a message that even KIDS got the other night.  And now they’re paying for it.

Three players from Little Miami High School ran onto the field prior to Friday night’s game on September 11th, leading the rest of their teammates out of the tunnel carrying flags.

Two of those students were suspended indefinitely, only to reinstate them earlier today. 

Here is what happened.

Friday’s game was, obviously, on 9/11. As such, the school organized the evening as “The Patriot Night.” It was organized as a way to pay tribute to those we lost 19 years ago in the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers, penetrated the Pentagon, and saw a group of patriots fight back and crash a hijacked plane in a Pennsylvania field before it could strike another target. 

Brady Williams and Jarad Bentley ran onto the field carrying Thin Blue Line and Thin Red Line flags, respectively. They did so in order to honor police and firefighters for both what they did on 9/11 and what they do every day. 

That act of recognition got them both suspended from the team. 

While it might make your blood boil to see that they were suspended, there is more to the story. 

The students asked the district for permission to carry the flags, and were told no. So, they made a choice to honor emergency responders in defiance of the district’s answer.

The school district sent the following statement to Fox19 in response to the decision:  

“Little Miami Local Schools is saddened to see this story take such a negative turn. While we understand these students’ desire show their support of our first responders, they did not obtain permission from district officials. Administrators must act when students break the rules.

‘The Patriot Night’ program to memorialize the victims of 9/11 was already part of our pre-game ceremonies on Friday and the American flag is the first thing through the tunnel every Friday night.

Little Miami enjoys an outstanding relationship with local first [responders] police and fire agencies and a Little Miami school resource officer is also a high school football coach.

Little Miami always has – and always will – support our first responders, our veterans, and all who sacrifice to maintain our freedoms.”

Bentley’s father is a firefighter. Williams, whose father is a police officer, was asked if it was a political statement.

He said:

“No. Not at all. I was just doing it to honor the people that lost their lives 19 years ago.“

As we have been writing this article, the situation has been updated. 

According to Cincinnati.com, the suspension has been lifted

School board president Bobbie Grice issued a statement addressing the matter, after speaking to all the parties involved.

Grice said:

“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, 

“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.” 

The decision to reinstate the players came after a petition was organized on change.org, which stated the following: 

“Jarad and Brady took a Thin blue and red striped flag out on the field after they were told not to. The school suspended them indefinitely for supporting their fallen hero’s [sic]. Sign this petition to help unsuspend the 2 student-athletes who have lost their senior season.” 

The petition received over 19,500 signatures. 

The situation received a push into the national spotlight, thanks in part to a tweet from Donald Trump, Jr. 

But not everyone was in agreement with Trump’s assessment of the situation. 

“If only these DISOBEDIENT CHILDREN had followed school policy, this wouldn’t have happened. The school did their job…next time, don’t be INSUBORDINATE…. Follow the rules!!”

Note, the user’s response only completely ignores the question asked in Trump’s tweet, which was, would this have happened if the players were carrying BLM flags. 

And there is something else missing in all of this. The district’s statement glosses over the fact that they told the students no. And that begs the larger question to be asked: If the district “supports first responders”, then why say no. 

Law Enforcement Today has reached out to the district to ask that very question, but had not received an answer prior to the completion of this piece. We will provide an update if and when we receive a response from Little Miami Local Schools. 

A Little Miami alum named Josh Johns said that he was planning to show support for the two players at the schools next home game on September 25th. 

When the Enquirer asked him why he was making those plans, he responded: 

“Basically, I felt the punishment did not fit the crime,” Johns said. “Brady’s dad is a police officer, Jarad’s dad is a firefighter and this was meant to honor first responders on the anniversary of Sept. 11. If this was an online comment, I would say it in all caps: This was not political.”

Recently, another group of athletes were reprimanded for carrying the thin blue line flag onto the football field. 

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LET Unity

CHARDON, OH – Ralph Spidalieri, Geauga County Commissioner went full on attack mode when he wrote a letter to the Chardon Local Schools Superintendent.

Spidalieri called for Chardon Local Schools Superintendent Michael Hanlon Jr. to step down from his position. This was after Hanlon motioned to ban the “thin blue line” flag from academic functions.

This occurred after some student-athletes carried the pro-police symbol onto the football field.

Spidalieri wrote while calling for Superintendent Michael Hanlon Jr. to resign:

“Your letter sickens me and so many others that have reached out to me and expressed the same disgust with your inability to stand up and recognize their patriotism.”


 

This controversy all began from a Friday night football game. Chardon High School players carried the “thin blue line” American flag onto the field when they faced football foe Eastlake North High School.

Hanlon begrudgingly admitted that the Chardon community “developed a special relationship” with law enforcement after first responders were called to help in a 2012 school shooting. This left three dead, and three injured.  The February 2012 high school shooting that left three dead and three others injured.

However, Hanlon said that with the modern climate, the pro-police flag could be misconstrued as racially motivated, and inappropriate for athletics which should be free of politics.

Chardon Chief of Police Scott Niehus addressed the community with a message describing how the bond between the police department and students became even stronger, and made the two groups closer in the wake of the school shooting on Feb. 27, 2012.

He recognized that the individual perspective of the Thin Blue Line is unique depending on each person’s experience with police officers.

In the letter Chief Niehus stated:

“Last Friday night, in a show of support for one of their coaches who also serves as a police officer, and in recognition of first responders throughout our community, the Hilltopper football team carried a thin blue line flag onto the football field with them. Our officers appreciated the show of support demonstrated by the players, as this has been an incredibly difficult and challenging time for many law enforcement officers across the country.”

Chief Niehus spoke of the history of the bond the police had with the schools. It started in 1947 with Chief John Bohl who loved kids, and understood the importance of a positive relationship between children and law enforcement. He started a crossing guard program and frequently found himself interacting with students. He continued through the D.A.R.E. Program, and the February 27, 2012 shooting. He addressed today’s concerns where tensions between teens and police are volatile.

He added:

“The officers of the Chardon police department strive to represent the best of what law enforcement officers should be. To us, the thin blue line represents the strength and courage of officers working together as a profession to make our community safe.”

He thanked the community for their support. He reminded and emphasized that anyone who needed their help would receive it.

He then concluded:

“When called upon we will respond. We will perform our mission as guided by our core values, and the principles of service, justice and fundamental fairness. That’s who we are, and that’s what our community expects of us.”

The Chardon Board of Education President Madelon Horvath emphasized their support for the Superintendent in a release. They also cited the district’s policy that prohibits political speech by staff members, although saying it “does not diminish the District’s support and appreciation for police and all first responders.”

A part of the released statement read:

“The Chardon Board of Education would like to make it clear that we are in full support of Dr. Hanlon’s and the Administration’s decision regarding the football team’s display of the Thin Blue Line flag on the field at last week’s football game. Because it was displayed as part of a pre-game ceremony under the supervision of school staff, it was construed as sanctioned by the school district. Political activity by staff members is not allowable under Board of Education policy.

In summation of the statement, it cited that as of now the thin blue line flag is considered a political statement. It has also chastised a teacher for a Black Lives Matter sign in the background during a school session.

The community has rallied around the students and their use of waving the thin blue line flag.  

 

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