Football Eye Black Isn’t Blackface
When La Jolla High School played Morse High School under the Friday night lights on October 13, students from the surrounding San Diego area filled the stadium to cheer on their prospective teams. Making posters, dawning face and body paint, yelling chants, and sporting jerseys were all part of the electric football game atmosphere.
J.A., a middle-schooler from Muirlands Middle School, attended the game with another student and that student’s mother. To show support for his team, J.A. let his friend put eye black paint on his face. A security guard even complimented the design. The game was largely uneventful with La Jolla winning handedly (56–6). But almost a week later, J.A. was called into a disciplinary meeting with his parents at Muirlands.
In that meeting, J.A. was told he would be suspended from school for two days and was no longer allowed to attend future athletic events because he wore “blackface” to the football game. The suspension notice only specified that he was being suspended because he “painted his face black at a football game,” and the alleged offense was marked as “Offensive comment, intent to harm.” J.A.’s father told the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a First Amendment nonprofit, that no one complained or said anything negative about his son’s eye black while at the game. The school’s principal also failed to specify how they found out about the incident.
As Aaron Terr, director of public advocacy at FIRE, notes in a November 8 letter to Muirlands Middle School, “J.A.’s non–disruptive, objectively inoffensive” face paint is absolutely constitutionally protected expression.
In the letter, FIRE re
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