JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Arkansas State University has responded to the Liberty Institute after a football player said the school violated his free speech after the team altered a cross decal on the back of his helmet.
The player said he feels the university censored the helmet sticker, which was shaped like a cross to honor two team members who recently passed away. The Liberty Institute said that ASU had until Wednesday to reinstate the stickers and publicly acknowledge that players have the right to express themselves or face more legal action.
In a letter to the Liberty Institute from ASU System President Charles Welch, it is pointed out that the head coach, not the players designed the memorial for Markel Owens and Barry Weyer. Members of the coaching staff and 15 players, known as the head coach's "Leadership Council" approved the decals and decided to place them on the helmets of all players.
The letter said that the decals were paid for by public funds from the team's equipment fund. Also contrary to the Liberty Institute's letter, the students themselves did not affix the stickers to the helmets. ASU's response stated that "all the remaining officially-designed and publicly-funded decals were affixed to the helmets by the team's equipment managers."
The University's response said "The foregoing facts are in stark contrast to the misinformation contained in your letter stating that the 'students designed the helmet sticker,' that '[e]ach teammate affixed the sticker to his helmet,' and that the 'stickers were designed by the students on their own.'"
The letter also said that all of this was done without the advice of counsel. The University argued that "Accordingly, when the school modified the stickers to avoid Establishment Clause concerns, no student speech was infringed."
ASU concluded by saying that any player who wishes to voluntarily place an NCAA-compliant sticker on their helmet to memorialize their fallen colleagues will be able to do so. The letter said "The display of these stickers will be totally voluntary and completely independent of university involvement. The university will not procure the stickers, purchase them, or affix them to the helmets."
To read A-State's letter to Liberty Institute, click here.