The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has sent Garden City Community College a letter asking for clarification as to why former Broncbuster basketball player Rasool Samir is no longer on the team, following an incident between Samir and a Broncbuster booster after Samir shot baskets during the national anthem.
The incident occurred just prior to a Nov. 1 game against Sterling College, GCCC’s season opener. Samir was escorted out of the Conestoga Arena by a campus police officer, after Broncbuster Athletic Association member Jim Howard confronted him on the court. Howard, who said he confronted Samir because he felt his actions were disrespectful, was allowed to return to his seat, where he remained for the duration of the game.
Two days later, Samir was no longer enrolled at the college, and GCCC Director of Athletics John Green said it was Samir’s decision. However, Samir told The Telegram head men's basketball coach Brady Trenkle told him he had to leave the college.
Now, Samir has filed a complaint with the ACLU, which then sent the letter, dated Nov. 9, to Green. The Telegram obtained a copy of the letter — which can be found here — and in it, the ACLU asks the college to address several allegations that the college may have violated Samir’s First Amendment rights.
“We believe any disciplinary action by GCCC against Mr. Samir for abstaining from the anthem is antithetical to our American values and a violation of his First Amendment rights,” the ACLU’s letter read.
The ACLU also asked for clarification of the college’s stance regarding why Samir was no longer at GCCC, citing The Telegram’s story in which Green claimed Samir left on his own accord, and then a KWCH-TV story in which Green said Samir had been dismissed for a violation of team rules.
“I think our objective with the letter is to discern the inconsistencies in statements to the media,” Lauren Bonds, ACLU’s legal director and author of the letter sent to GCCC, said Wednesday afternoon.
Bonds said that her office did receive a response from the college on Wednesday, but the ACLU had not reviewed it completely as of Wednesday afternoon. However, Bonds said that she believes the college’s response still contained inconsistencies.
When reached for comment Wednesday, Green directed questions regarding the incident and the ACLU letter to the college’s attorney, Randy Grisell of Doering and Grisell PA in Garden City. Following Wednesday night's men's home game with Barton, Trenkle also referred any questions regarding the incident to Grisell.
Grisell did not return a message left for him at his office Wednesday afternoon.
Samir, who is black and Muslim, previously said he wasn’t protesting, as many athletes across the country have done by kneeling or performing other actions during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial inequality. He told The Telegram and reaffirmed in the ACLU’s letter that “he refrained from participating in the anthem because he is a Muslim and his faith prohibits acts of reverence to anything but God,” the letter said.
Prior to leaving the college, Samir apologized for shooting around during the anthem, saying he did not “mean any disrespect at all to the fans or the flag at last night’s game. I am truly sorry to anyone that felt disrespected, and I am also sorry to the school. I apologize for what happened.”
The ACLU contends, and cites in the letter at least a dozen judicial rulings, that any discipline that Samir possibly received because of his abstaining from the anthem is a violation of the First Amendment because GCCC is a public institution.
“It’s a kind of compelled patriotic salutes that we don’t think should be the basis on if a student-athlete is allowed to participate in athletics,” Bonds said.
Bonds said the ACLU has not decided on what step the organization would take next, if the college’s response was not satisfactory. However, Bonds said the ACLU has been able to resolve similar cases nationally using a demand letter, while the Nov. 9 letter was to gather information.
“Because we are concerned that Samir was kicked off the team for exercising his First Amendment rights, we ask that you please provide us with GCCC’s response to (Samir’s) allegations,” the letter read. “In particular, we request any documentation you have that establishes Samir: (1) was not chastised by Coach Trenkle for refusing to salute the flag; (2) was not ordered to leave Conestoga Arena for asserting his right to abstain from the anthem; (3) left the team voluntarily; and (4) was dismissed from the team due to a violation of team rules that carries the penalty of dismissal.”
Contact J. Levi Burnfin at firstname.lastname@example.org.