The Saugus High School football team will no longer carry the “Thin Blue Line” flag in support of law enforcement when they storm the field before games, a decision that prompted heated debate among community members on social media.
The William S. Hart Union High School District confirmed Wednesday evening that the flag will no longer be displayed, and that school officials are working with the team to find another way to express support for law enforcement.
In a recent Facebook post, local resident Duncan Mandel asked users to insist that the William S. Hart Union High School District immediately stop the use of what he called the “Blue Lives” flag on campuses and at school events.
“There is absolutely no reason for this image to be carried out onto the field by players or used on cheer blocks,” the post read. “Get loud. What message are we sending to our kids if we sit back and allow this divisiveness to continue. Do something! This is simply not a First Amendment issue.”
In a phone call with The Signal, Mandel, a former Saugus resident who currently lives in Newhall, said he feels people can show their appreciation for law enforcement in many ways, but that the “Thin Blue Line” flag sends another message.
“It came out as a reaction of that summer where there were a lot of (‘Black Lives Matter’) protests after George Floyd was killed,” he said. “So, it’s a reactionary flag. It’s not something that was just invented as a pure, ‘Hey, let’s support law enforcement.’ There are probably 1,000 other flags that are exactly like this. I’ve seen bumper stickers and signs all over the place for my entire life that are pure just, ‘Hey, we support law enforcement. We support military. We support fire.’ This one thing — this one very specific thing — was a reaction to that summer.”
Mandel added that the National Football League doesn’t even allow the flag at games.
The flag, which actually predates the protests over the George Floyd killing by several years, is promoted by, among others, thinbluelineusa.com as a show of support for the sacrifices law enforcement officers make in the interest of public safety. “Whether you are an officer, retired officer, or the loving family behind them, we support you. We understand the immense sacrifice you are asked to make,” the website says.
“The flag has no association with racism, hatred, bigotry,” website founder Andrew Jacob told Politico in an article published in June 2020. “It’s a flag to show support for law enforcement — no politics involved.”
Jared Livingston, a Saugus resident and a fan of Saugus High football, told The Signal that people in the area have a great appreciation for law enforcement, particularly after the Saugus High shooting in 2019.
“I realize we live in an era where we can define things and kind of come up with whatever, but that flag has been around for a long time and it represents — it’s paying honor to the fallen. It’s a thing of honor. It has nothing to do with anything political.”
According to Joe Messina, the presiding officer of the Hart district’s board of trustees, each high school makes decisions about its own sports teams. He also confirmed that Saugus High School staff are working with the coach and players on this issue.
Mike Kuhlman, superintendent of the Hart district, released a statement Wednesday evening. The statement — a letter addressed to the Saugus High School community — reiterated that the district supports law enforcement and deeply appreciates their work, and the district also fosters a culture of inclusivity, kindness and respect.
“In deference to his [Coach Jason Bornn] commitment to inclusivity, kindness, and respect (just loving people), and because the team never voted as a unit to carry this banner, Coach decided to discontinue this practice,” Kuhlman said in the statement.
Saugus High School’s administration has already begun looking for alternative ways to send this message of supporting law enforcement clearly, he added.
A number of social media users — parents and area residents — expressed disagreement with the decision.
One parent emailed The Signal with her feelings.
“Our valley has always had a large amount of civil servant residents who keep our valley safe,” the parent said. “Also, being the mother of a child at Saugus during the shooting, I am appalled that they would not want to represent law enforcement that ran into the school to assist our children.”
The Saugus High football team also carries its high school flag and an American flag at games. The team has a scheduled bye this weekend and next takes the field against Hart High School on Oct. 7 at College of the Canyons.