Football players at a Florida high school were banned from running onto the field before games carrying a pro-police Thin Blue Line flag after complaints that the flag was racist and fears from school administrators that it was viewed as a political statement, WJXT-TV reported.
Players at Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach carried the flag onto the field all last season to honor the memory of late Jacksonville Beach Police Department Cpl. Andy Lavender, who was the father of Fletcher High School junior offensive lineman Caelen Lavender. Cpl. Lavender died unexpectedly in August 2019.
Although the flag didn't cause problems last year, the elevated anti-police sentiment that exists in 2020 caused the flag to draw more attention. Online commenters reportedly called the display racist, and complaints led school officials to ban the tribute.
"The flag, known as the Thin Blue Line flag, has different meaning for different people, and rather than representing the young man's personal feelings, it was being interpreted as a political statement of the team and of the school," Principal Dean Ledford said in a statement. "In consultation with the coaches, I determined that the act of using this flag in this personal way, while in the context of the football game opening ceremony, could easily be construed as representing a political position of our school and not just the personal feelings of the student and his teammates. Therefore, I have determined that it is no longer appropriate to continue. I am in conversation with the student and his teammates about ways they can appropriately express their personal views."
Lorie Lavender, Caelen's mother, told WJXT there was nothing political about the use of the flag.
"It was all about my son's love for his dad and his memory," Lavender said.
Steve Zona, president of the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police, criticized the ban.
"This is a prime example where it was as innocent as can be, there is no politics involved, no us versus them, simply to honor a great man and allow his kids on the football team to honor him, and they have taken those, hijacked it, and called it racism," Zona told WJXT. And now the son and these kids are suffering because of it."
Two high school students in Ohio were suspended from the team for carrying Thin Blue Line and Thin Red Line (for firefighters) flags onto the field before a Sept. 11 game to honor their fathers and other first responders. They had been told by the district not to bring the flags on the field.
(H/T: New York Post)