(No. 06-6172, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit)
ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorneys: Barbara Moss and Sam Zeigler, Stites and Harbison (Amicus Representation). The Student Press Law Center and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) joined our brief.
Plaintiffs: Jeff Lowery and Lisa A. Lowery, individually and as next friend of Derrick “Rabbit” Lowery; Randy Giles, individually and as next friend of Jacob Giles; Stacey Guthrie, individually and as next friend of Joseph Dooley; James and Lora Spurlock, individually and as next friend of Dillan Spurlock
Defendants: Marty Euverard, Football Coach; Dale Schneitman and Craig Kisabeth, Jefferson County Board of Education
Four Jefferson County High School football players alleged that their coach abused and humiliated them, signing a petition that stated, “I hate Coach Euverard, and I don’t want to play for him.” The players were kicked off the team. The boys and their parents filed a lawsuit alleging that the action violated the student athletes’ free speech rights.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a scathing decision that essentially stripped students of most free speech protections. Instead of applying the Tinker standard, the Court found that student athletes were more akin to government workers than to actual students and, therefore, should only be afforded the First Amendment protections given to government workers. They found that no free speech right existed for a student to circulate a petition in school, even if the activity itself was not disruptive. The Court further found that a coach could retaliate against students for such behavior by kicking them off of the team.
Essentially the Court held that while one has a right to a public education, playing on a sports team is a privilege, and that student athletes do not have the same free speech rights on the field as they do in the classroom.
In light of the potential precedential value of such a decision, ACLU-TN filed an amicus brief in support of the students’ petition for rehearing en banc, or in front of the entire federal appellate court.
In March 2008, the 6th Circuit denied the plaintiffs’ petition for a rehearing.