Reading the Fine Print

Samuel Harrington, Contributing Writer

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Many of us at Hall are student-athletes, yet hardly anyone knows athletes are held to a different standard than your average student. I recently found out that athletes are subject to punitive measures during the summer while a typical student is not. After this incident, I was curious to find out what other regulations the school imposes on athletes.

Although most of the athlete specific regulations overlap with the student handbook rules, I found something that stood out. In a section regarding student-athlete behavior, tucked between verbal abuse of officials and drug and alcohol-related clothing, the rulebook clearly states that, “Student-athletes will stand at attention during the national anthem.” Kneeling during the national anthem is clearly a hot topic for some, but the idea of this article does not intend to take a side on the debate; rather, the intent is to draw light to an overstep of school regulations.

The First Amendment is sacred to every American, so is it fair that the school is able to censor the freedom of expression? Is it even legal to establish such a rule in the first place? The Supreme Court is inclined to disagree with the school’s rules. In 1942, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette decided, in a 6-3 decision, that forcing students to salute the flag violated both the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Super Court’s majority opinion, written by Robert Houghwout Jackson, states, “The Court found that the First Amendment cannot enforce a unanimity of opinion on any topic, and national symbols like the flag should not receive a level of deference that trumps constitutional protections.” Kneeling for the national anthem would certainly apply under this ruling. At least legally, it appears WHPS is in foreign territory with this particular rule, yet it still applies.

I can’t say for sure why nobody has questioned the policy requiring student-athletes to stand during the anthem thus far, but I have a suspicion it is because most athletes don’t have any time to search out a rulebook online nor interest in reading said handbook. Which is where this article comes in:  If West Hartford intends to administer these rules, it shouldn’t be a mystery to those to whom it applies.

Despite the fact that I have never witnessed a Hall athlete kneel during the national anthem, the idea that one could be punished for such an action is unsettling. I conclude with the thought that regardless of how you view kneeling for the national anthem, West Hartford’s policy should make you question a rule that silences the voice of a student.

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