Court Stands By Tennessee School that Booted 4 Athletes from Team

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. – A three-judge panel unanimously ruled on Aug. 3 that Jefferson County High School was within its rights to kick four high school football players off the team after they petitioned against their coach, despite protests of free speech violations.

During last year’s football season, four athletes circulated a petition urging the school principal to replace coach Marty Euverard. The students accused Euverard of using inappropriate language, humiliating his players and even striking one player in the helmet. Players who signed the petition but later apologized to Euverard were permitted to remain on the team, but the four instigators were kicked off.

The judges argued that the administration’s decision did not suppress the athletes’ right to free speech. They were perfectly free to continue their petition. However, they could not simultaneously be part of the team and undermine the coach’s authority. Furthermore, the only punishment was removal from a voluntary, school-sponsored activity. Their education was left in tact.

As a precedent, the judges cited the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that school administrators could restrict student speech if it risks disrupting the education or rights of others. Judge Ronald Gilmore also pointed to the more recent case of Frederick v. Morse, which permitted schools to punish students who promoted illegal drug use.

The plaintiff’s lawyer Michael Kelley called the ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a travesty and said the students will apply for a rehearing in front of a full appellate court.

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