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It is well-established that students do not have a general constitutional right to participate in extracurricular athletics. The main purpose of high school is to learn science, the liberal arts and vocational studies, not to play football and basketball.
Derrick Lowery, Jacob Giles, Joseph Dooley, and Dillon Spurlock were members of the Jefferson County varsity football team. Defendant Euverard became the head varsity football coach at Jefferson County in 2004. During the 2005 season, many of the Jefferson County football players, including Lowery et al., became dissatisfied with Euverard's coaching methods. They alleged that Euverard struck a player in the helmet, threw away college recruiting letters to disfavored players, humiliated and degraded players, used inappropriate language, and required a year-round conditioning program in violation of high school rules. In early October of 2005, after discussions with Dooley and Lowery, Giles typed the following statement: "I hate Coach Euvard [sic] and I don't want to play for him." Giles and Dooley asked other players to sign the petition, which would be held until after the football season. Giles and Dooley intended to then give the petition to Defendant Schneitman, the principal of Jefferson County, in order to have Euverard replaced as head coach. Players who signed the petition but apologized to Euverard and told him they wanted to play for him were allowed to remain on the team, the rest were removed. The players brought suit in federal court after they were dismissed from their high school football team. Defendants brought a motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, which the district court denied. On appeal, Defendants argued that the players’ dismissal was permissible under the rule governing student speech set forth in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 89 S. Ct. 733, 21 L. Ed. 2d 731 (1969).
Did the players have a right to remain on the football team after participating in a petition that stated "I hate Coach (coach's name) and I don't want to play for him"?
The court framed the relevant question as what was the proper balance between a student athlete's First Amendment rights and a coach's need to maintain order and discipline? It rejected the player's characterization that the case involved viewpoint discrimination. The specific question presented was whether the players had a right to remain on the football team after participating in a petition that stated "I hate Coach (coach's name) and I don't want to play for him." The court found that the petition constituted a direct challenge to the coach's authority. Because Tinker did not require certainty, but only that a forecast of substantial disruption be reasonable, the players' self-serving claim that the petition did not substantially disrupt the team did not preclude a grant of summary judgment for defendants. The petition was reasonably likely to cause substantial disruption on the football team by eroding the coach's authority and dividing players into opposing camps. This belief was bolstered by the players' insubordinate and disruptive acts at a team meeting. Defendants did not violate the players' First Amendment rights by removing them from the football team.