WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Muslim student athlete who refused to observe the national anthem for religious reasons at a basketball game in Kansas has been kicked off the team following altercations with a team supporter, who accused him of disrespecting the American flag, and a coach.
The case has ignited concerns over whether Garden City Community College violated the First Amendment rights of 19-year-old Rasool Samir, who continued shooting balls after his teammates returned to the locker room during the anthem at a Nov. 1 game against Sterling College.
Samir withdrew from classes after losing his athletic scholarship and has since returned home to Philadelphia, said Lauren Bonds, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas. The ACLU contends Samir did not participate in the anthem because he believes his Muslim faith prohibits acts of reverence to anything but God.
The college's attorney, Randall Grisell, told The Associated Press that Samir's dismissal stems from a violation of team rules and had "nothing to do with his conduct during the national anthem, as far as the protest or any stance that he might have taken."
Samir was confronted on the court by longtime fan Jim Howard, who said he told the player to "respect the flag or leave." Both sides agree that a security guard eventually intervened and escorted Samir to the locker room, where head coach Brady Trenkle told Samir to return to his dorm.
Instead, the college contends, Samir followed the team onto the floor and yelled at the coach, threatening to fight him, and responded with an obscenity when Trenkle told him to leave. The school said it was unclear why Samir didn't join his teammates in the locker room as required after pre-game workouts.
The ACLU said Samir was told by an assistant coach he didn't need to return to the locker room because he was recovering from an injury and wouldn't be playing in the game. The school confirmed Sami was a medical hardship redshirt athlete.
Bonds said the ACLU was still gathering information and deciding whether to sue, noting that the school's athletic director had given conflicting reports to local media about whether Samir had left on his own accord or was dismissed due to a violation of team rules.
Athletic Director John Green did not respond to phone and email messages from the AP seeking comment. Samir hung up when called by the AP for comment and did not respond to a text message.
In a letter to the ACLU, Grisell said it was unfortunate Samir reacted the way he did on Nov. 1, and that he would still be a member of the basketball team were it not for his conduct toward the head coach. Grisell later told the AP: "The conduct of the student athlete after he left the floor and the fact that he wasn't in the locker room when the national anthem was taking place were the basis for his dismissal from the team."
Howard, the 74-year-old fan who confronted Samir, said he has been attending ball games at the school for 32 years. He said teams routinely stay in the locker room during the national anthem and come out a few minutes after the anthem ends. Howard said he did not touch Samir, but the two exchanged words.
"I just told him to respect the flag or leave — that I had the right to listen to my national anthem and respect the flag without him out there playing. And if he couldn't handle that then he should leave and get off the court," Howard told the AP in a phone interview.
The college said the encounter between Samir and Howard was still under investigation by local law enforcement.