When the football team walked off the field after their victory over Kearney on October 18th, 2020, the only headlines anticipated were from local gazettes and heralds publicizing the high school’s win in their last regular season game; something far more monumental has made news, though.
To set the scene, the theme for the limited student section of seniors was chosen to be “USA Out”. Dress Code: red, white, and blue and anything patriotic. As a tradition, the senior guys painted their chests to read “2x World War Champs” from the sidelines. What seemed like an innocent gesture of pride and patriotism quickly heightened to a debate about the morals of the students and the school as a whole.
The following day, a man (who will be kept anonymous in this article) tweeted a picture of the painted students, one of which was holding a flag reading “Trump: Make American Great Again”.
“So Elkhorn South High School in Elkhorn Nebraska will allow this type of intimidation at a High School Football game ? It says WORLD WAR on the students chest. D*** SHAME,” said the user on his post.
Although this kind of message may be intimidating if it were to happen, the picture that was included on the tweet failed to include very important features; the eight students on either end of the saying that completed the message about how the United States has won two World Wars.
After reading the comments on the original post, and those on a later made post parallel to the first by a different account, it comes down to two main questions: Are political banners/signs protected at school functions and how far does the so-called “intimidation” span?
Very simply, the answer to the first question is yes. Although banned in some school districts across the country, Elkhorn Public Schools has no regulation against the presence or displaying of political banners, flags, or signs at school functions. It is an act that is still protected under the First Amendment, giving the student the freedom to voice their opinions. This right was also cemented in 1969 when the Supreme Court ruled that in favor of the students in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines; their case was for bands peacefully protesting the Vietnam War, and the case of our students is peacefully using printed language to demonstrate patriotism.
Now, the more complicated question that has arisen from this event; how far does this “intimidation” reach? The photo spread rapidly on social media and people started to question the integrity of the school administration for allowing the phrase and flag at the game. In an interview with WOWT, a parent of an Elkhorn South student gave his point of view on the situation.
“I think it was intimidating. I think it was threatening. I think it was racist. I felt like it was kind of soaked in white supremacy,”the parent said.
As the parent of a student of color, the parent said that he was afraid to send his student to school “because this was the kind of environment she was living in.”
In a world where so much has happened in the past few months, there are still reasons that many find fear in instances that seem politically fueled, but when context is inaccurate, there is a hard time telling where opinions can be interpreted as threat and intimidation. Based on the comments from students involved in the picture and others in support of them, intimidation was not a motive behind the possession of the banner.
As the investigation is still ongoing, Principal Mark Kalvoda has cleared up much of the controversy stirred from the online posts by saying that the photo was taken out of context and the message painted was motivated by patriotism, and that political speech is protected at games. The NSAA has no rule for or against such speech at games, and is also conducting its own investigation.
While this has rocked the boat, clearly, in the community and the state, the issue has gained some national attention when it was featured on Fox News online on Tuesday, October 20. The short article cited the exact information that was found in the WOWT story, but on a much larger scale.
More updates will be released as the investigation continues, but one last question has arisen from the issue, and this seems to be the most controversial. Is there a point where support for a president has to become a racist action, such as this is becoming? That question seems to always be up for debate, especially now in the heat of an upcoming election. So pick your side, choose where you draw your line, but let it be fueled by fact.