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Football Player’s Family Files Lawsuit Over Flag Use Incident

— March 10, 2021

Ohio parents file lawsuit against son’s school after he is suspended from sports.

In a recent lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, plaintiffs Kelly and Kris Cooper named North Fork Local School District Board of Education, Superintendent Scott Hartley, Utica High School Principal (UHS) Mark Bowman, and UHS Athletic Director Brian Radabaugh as defendants in their case alleging violations of a student’s civil rights.  The complaint follows an incident in which their son was suspended from school sports because he used an American flag to wipe his helmet during a football game, and includes claims of United States and Ohio constitutions, along with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 breaches.

“These actions were part of a pattern of discriminatory disciplinary actions and treatment toward (the student) by school administrators and white students because of his race,” the complaint indicated, stating “Their actions violated his constitutional and statutory rights by subjecting him to impermissible punishment due to his actual and perceived expressive speech and conduct regarding issues of public concern.  This speech and expressive conduct included (the student’s) history of objecting to the defendants’ pattern of race discrimination, as well as actions by (the student) that failed to adhere to the defendants’ political viewpoint, and which the defendants perceived as political dissent.”

Football Player's Family Files Lawsuit Over Flag Use Incident
Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

The student “left the field after a play during the fourth quarter of Utica’s game against Northridge High School on Sept. 11,” it continued, which also noted “Utica’s mascot is the Redskins, which was a racial slur directed at American Indians, and also that the student is biracial and at the time of the incident, was the only student of color on Utica’s football team.”

The face shield of his football helmet was foggy and needed to be wiped to allow him to see well and continue to play.  Due to the pandemic, there were no towels available for players to share.

“As a result, when (the student) left the field, with his one personal towel soiled from game play, he was unable to find a usable towel to wipe his visor,” the complaint says, indicating the student “attempted to clear the fog with his hands then unsuccessfully sought a cloth at a table used to hold medical and other supplies.”

He then “found an American flag nearby attached to a short pole and used it to clear the fog from his visor.  (The student) knew the object he was grasping and using to wipe his visor was the American flag.  He made the decision to use the flag in that manner because he did not consider the flag to be a sacred object of national pride that should be used only as a symbol of affirmative patriotism,” it alleged. “The flag was frequently transported and displayed on the field contrary to the U.S. Flag Code and that those allegedly responsible for the repeated violations are white, and to their knowledge have never been disciplined for the violations.”

As a result of a social media post that circulated soon after, the student was told he would be suspended from football and other sports and felt unsafe.  The lawsuit explains, “The post was shared widely in the local community and included several posts from local adults fantasizing about how (the minor) should be punished for disrespecting the flag, including violence, public humiliations and forced conscription.”

The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages, declaratory and injunctive relief, and costs and attorneys’ fees.  Kelly Cooper said, “It was over a 41-second incident.  I can tell you right now his mind was not on that flag one bit.  If they would have towels like normal teams do, he would have had a towel.”


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