The first athletes to wear the "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts were NBA basketball players. Kobe Bryant, Derek Rose and LeBron James, among others, gained national attention for wearing the shirts during pre-game warmups to protest a grand jury decision not to indict a New York Police Department officer involved in the death of Eric Garner.
"I can't breathe" were the last words from Garner before he died while being put in a chokehold. It was caught on video.
The t-shirt protest quickly spread to other players in other leagues.
This weekend, the phenomenon hit the high school level, when two teams were disqualified from a basketball tournament in California for wearing 'I Can't Breathe" T-shirts.
The boys and girls varsity basketball teams from Mendocino High School (California) were disinvited from the tournament, which started Monday at Fort Bragg High, because of concerns players would wear the controversial T-shirts.
According to the Associated Press, Mendocino district superintendent Jason Morse said the boys team was reinstated after all but one player agreed not to wear the shirts anywhere on campus.
However, that was not the case for the Mendocino girls team. When not enough players agreed to the terms the tournament officials had laid down, the team was disinvited.
MHS and Fort Bragg played each other in a regular season game Dec. 16. That was when the players first wore the "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts. Mendocino also wore them at two other tournaments, without incident.
However, Fort Bragg officials didn't want to take any chances on their home court.
"To protect the safety and well-being of all tournament participants it is necessary to ensure that all political statements and or protests are kept away from this tournament," Fort Bragg Principal Rebecca Walker said in a statement in the Press Democrat. "We are a small school district that simply does not have the resources to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff, students and guests at the tournament should someone get upset and choose to act out."
The only player on the boys team who refused to abide by the no T-shirt rule was 16-year Connor Woods, who will sit out the three-day tournament.
According to MSN.com, Woods' father, Marc Woods, took the issue to the American Civil Liberties Union, claiming it has become a freedom of speech issue.