Two football players were indefinitely suspended from their school team for distributing and shooting a video of a burning LGBTQ pride flag on Snapchat.
The students, from Kearns High School in Kearns, Utah, made the video — in which someone is heard laughing and saying, “All gays die” — last week, according to Fox 13.
While the students were immediately removed from the football team, Granite School District officials are still determining what measures need to be taken beyond athletics.
A Unified Police Department spokesperson tells Yahoo Lifestyle that while a report about the incident was filed with police, they will not be investigating the issue as a hate crime, as Utah law considers hate crimes as enhancements to criminal offenses. According to the spokesperson, “Burning a flag is not a crime — it’s a freedom of speech issue, and the school is handling it.”
In an interview with Fox 13, Ben Horsley, communications director for Granite School District, confirmed administrators would handle the issue.
"We want to make sure every student who walks through our doors feels safe and secure in the environment that they're in," Horsley told Fox 13. "Whether it was done intentionally with a threat in mind or for humor's sake, it's inappropriate. And we're going to address it in a very serious fashion."
Head football coach Matt Rickards tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the school’s main priority in the program is to grow “men of character, integrity, be responsible, have empathy towards others and serve their community for good.”
He added that the incident is out of the ordinary, and that the school is “very diverse,” adding that they have never had issues with players bullying anyone. “In fact, quite the opposite happens where our players stand up for those being bullied,” he says. “The athlete that made the video is an incoming freshman that I have had little contact with.”
According to the Salt Lake Channel, the video is considered cyberbullying and a safe school violation.
The Granite School District website outlines bullying and hazing policies, describing that students and school employees cannot engage in cyberbullying “on school property, at a school related or sponsored event, on a school bus, at a school bus stop or while the student or school employee is traveling to or from a location or event described above.” It is uncertain whether the video was shot or distributed in any of these situations.
On Monday, the Kearns High School official Facebook page posted about the video, flagging it as “not acceptable from any student at KHS.” While the post confirms that an investigation has started, and the students involved will face consequences, community members and alumni spoke out about how concerning the video is, one even claiming that it is “definitely” a hate crime.
“As the mother of a transgender student who will be attending your school this year, I am upset, embarrassed, and worried for my child,” commented one person. “The young men who made this decision have just ruined their football careers. Think about the consequences before you do something you might think is funny. While maybe you think it’s a joke, it may make someone else fear for their life! Burning the flag is one thing, saying ‘all gays die’ most definitely makes this a hate crime!”
Another added, “Everyone should feel safe and free from this kind of discrimination and especially the most vulnerable! It doesn’t matter if it’s an American Flag, Pride Flag or Religious Flag this action speaks for itself and can’t be tolerated.”
Some suggested that being removed from the football team wasn’t enough, and that more serious measures need to be taken.
“Bare minimum: Kicked off of teams,” a community member commented. “Please hold these students accountable,” added another. “Otherwise you end up with bigots in high levels of power.”
A former Kearns High School student Tweeted about the incident, affirming that if there isn’t an official investigation, “the gay kids of Kearns will riot,” to which Granite School District responded, reiterating that there will be appropriate steps and consequences.
@GraniteSchools If there’s not an official investigation with police involvement about this video of kids from the Kearns Football team @KearnsFootball , the gay kids of kearns will riot ✌🏼 this will NOT be swept under the rug. This is NOT OKAY. (A thread) pic.twitter.com/e0BVlFqXjz
— Tiarra (@Buddhist_chick) June 17, 2019
“I’m glad I put in the work to graduate a year early. But if I hadn’t, I’d be terrified to go to school,” the former student Tweeted. “There are a lot of queer people at Kearns high that’ll go there in fear, knowing that people on the top of the social food chain are getting away with anti-gay hate crimes.”
Ben Horsely and representatives from Snapchat did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.
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