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A California school district that initially banned basketball players from wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts in a tournament, has reversed the ban and will now allow players to wear the shirts — as long as they do not cause any serious problems.

The reversal came on Monday after the boys and girls teams of Mendocino High School were told they could not play in the three-day event if they wore the shirts displaying Eric Garner’s last words — “I Can’t Breathe.”

First Amendment lawyer Karen Boyd intended to file a federal court motion arguing that barring the shirts violated the free speech rights of student athletes.

“This is always my preference, if we can get things worked out without a lot of court stuff,” she said.

School officials would like to avoid legal woes, but remained concerned the shirts could cause a disruption in the community that is still mourning the death of a sheriff’s deputy killed in March.

“The concern is, you are in a packed auditorium, this is a polarizing issue and it’s about something that happened in New York,” School district lawyer Patrick Wilson said. “I think it’s fine for people to protest about it, but emotions are still raw in that area.”

The agreement will stand as long as the shirts do not cause any issues. According to the Huffington Post:

The Mendocino boys team played its first game in the tournament on Monday morning after all but one of the players agreed to forego the shirts. It still has two more games scheduled. Too few members of the girls team accepted the condition and another high school was invited to take their place, Boyd said.

The initial banning of the shirts sparked a protest outside of the tournament, with some of the female players participating and about one hundred supporters rallying.

“I’m so proud of them for becoming involved in these issues,” said mom Jone Lemos. “On the other hand, I’m sad for them they weren’t able to play basketball because it’s one of the things they love to do and taking that away from them hurt.”

The boys and girls Mendocino varsity teams first wore the shirts against Fort Bragg High School on Dec. 16. Last week, Bruce Triplett, the athletic director at Fort Bragg High School, said the Mendocino teams would not be welcome at the tournament, but then reinstated the boys when they agreed not to wear the shirts.


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