Alaska HS basketball team cleared to wear 'Black Lives Matter' on athletic gear

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Corrections and clarifications: The headline on this article has been revised to reflect that East Anchorage High School was allowed to wear athletic gear containing the phrase “Black Lives Matter” in the Alaska state tournament.

East Anchorage High School boasts one of the best boys basketball programs in the state of Alaska.

It also features a group of young men dedicated to bringing about change in their community.

East Anchorage players had been wearing the phrase “Black Lives Matter” on their gear since the beginning of their season. While wearing the message of unity and equality, East Anchorage pieced together an undefeated regular season.

However, after winning its conference tournament last week, a formal complaint was issued to the Alaska Sports Activities Association (ASAA), according to David Bullock, an Alaska native currently living in Los Angeles and CEO of 907 Agency. The claim was that Black Lives Matter is a political statement, and the team should have to cover the phrase during the state tournament.

Disappointed in the criticism of the team’s efforts to unify the community, Damarion Delaney, one of East Anchorage’s star players took to Twitter to shed light on the situation. Fortunately, the ASAA ruled in favor of East Anchorage and allowed them to continue wearing their full uniforms.

Delaney’s Twitter thread caught the attention of Bullock, who immediately took action. He reached out to Puma in an effort to garner additional support of East Anchorage’s efforts. Puma responded by gifting each East Anchorage player and coach a pair of black sneakers, which Bullock gifted to the team hours before its Alaska 4A state championship game Saturday.

“The thread on Twitter received hundreds of retweets and favorites, which is what got my attention,” Bullock told USA Today High School Sports. “I viewed this as an attempt to silence the movement. I reached out to Puma Basketball to support these young men. In response, Puma sent a pair of black shoes to every player and coach on the team, which I delivered to them hours before the state championship.”

Photo: ARM Creative

East Anchorage ultimately completed a perfect season by winning its state title game, but its players achieved far more than just a trophy in doing so. Like it or not, East Anchorage left a profound impact on its community — one that will play a major role in how it combats social and racial injustices moving forward.

“The efforts to silence this team’s message of equality weren’t successful and ultimately amplified their voices,” Bullock said. “Not only did this group of young men stick to their beliefs, but they completed a perfect season and became Alaska state champions.”

Update: The claim and circumstances conveyed by David Bullock have been disputed by the Anchorage School District. Below is an email from Alan Brown, ASD’s Director of Communications and Community Outreach, that was sent to USA TODAY High School Sports for clarification:

During the 2020/21 High School basketball season, the Bettye Davis East High School boys’ basketball team has worn warm up shirts with the words Black Lives Matter printed down the back. Last week during the regional tournament, the school was informed of a parent concern that specifically questioned whether or not the warm ups were paid for with District funds.

When Bettye Davis East High School administrators received word of the parent concern, they asked the team to hold off wearing the warm ups while a District review could be conducted.

After looking into the situation, the District quickly determined that the warm ups did not violate any District or ASAA policies, nor have the warm ups created any disruption during the season. Additionally, the District learned that the Bettye Davis East High School Booster Club purchased the shirts for everyone on the team.

The District reviewed ASD policies on appropriate student dress, as well as student speech and expression. The District also reviewed ASAA policies governing the wear and appearance of athletic uniforms. ASAA policy provides very specific guidelines on what can be worn on game jerseys and uniforms; however, those policies do not apply to warm ups.

The entire process took about a day, and the District notified Bettye Davis East High School immediately of the decision to allow the team to continue wearing the warm ups as they had done for every game this season. The team didn’t play any games during the review process.

ASD wants to congratulate the entire Bettye Davis East boys’ basketball team on their undefeated season and their state championship victory this weekend.

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