Cheerleaders With Trump Banner Set Off a Controversy in North Carolina

The New York Times 1 month ago

A photo of high school cheerleaders holding a Trump banner ignited a heated controversy in North Carolina that drew in a congressman and an alleged member of a far-right group, showing how local skirmishes can both fuel and be fed by the nation’s broader culture wars.

The saga began on Friday, Aug. 30.

That night, several cheerleaders from North Stanly High School, about an hour northeast of Charlotte, were photographed at a football game holding a sign supporting President Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. The photograph quickly made its way onto Facebook, where it elicited a backlash.

Though the school didn’t discipline the cheerleaders, it did criticize their actions, saying that the focus of athletic events should be squarely on students, not politics.

“Because the cheerleaders were in uniform and were acting as representatives of the school, the display of the sign could be perceived as the school or school system endorsing a political campaign,” it said in a statement.

The cheerleaders were allowed to continue attending football games, but were asked not to display the sign again.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association, however, put the cheerleaders on probation, effectively a warning for violating the principles laid out in the “Philosophy of Cheerleading” section of the association’s handbook.

“It serves as a notice of behavior or action that is against N.C.H.S.A.A. Handbook Policy or contrary to expectations of sportsmanship and proper behavior,” the association’s commissioner, Que Tucker, said in a statement.

Last Tuesday, Representative Richard Hudson, a Republican whose district includes Stanly County, wrote to Ms. Tucker to protest that decision and call for it to be reconsidered.

“I am appalled these students are being punished for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech,” he wrote. “As leaders, we should be encouraging America’s youth to participate in our democracy and political process — not punishing and silencing them.”

Some in the community voiced support for the cheerleaders, and plans materialized to rally in their support at a game scheduled for last Friday.

In an interview, Sheriff Jeffrey A. Crisco of Stanly County said that a sheriff’s deputy and the superintendent of the Stanly County school district, Jeff James, had met with the two hosts of a Facebook event promoting the rally before it was scheduled to take place.

“They made it very clear they were there not to promote violence in any way, shape or form,” he said of the organizers.

Sheriff Crisco said he had planned escalated security for the event, which the organizers had welcomed, and that he had learned only later of reports linking one of them to the Proud Boys, a far-right group that has been involved in violent clashes.

Ultimately, the school board decided to postpone the game, citing unspecified safety concerns, according to Sheriff Crisco. He said the school had told him about the decision without specifying what had prompted the concerns.

The rally still took place, he said, with about 50 to 75 people peacefully assembled on Friday.

In the end, the game was rescheduled to Saturday morning, according to The Stanly News & Press, and there was little sign of the heightened controversy that had preceded it.

“The Saturday morning meeting between North Stanly High School and Carson was simply another routine football game,” the newspaper reported. “The few boos that were leveled were directed at the opposing team and the referees.”

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