The benefits were few because, predictably, the ban on "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts did not succeed in creating "an atmosphere of political neutrality" at the tournament. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports that roughly 50 people gathered yards from the gymnasium where the tournament was held to protest in support of the student athletes. Meanwhile, the school and the protesting students have become objects of national media attention. Of course, no harm is likely to come of this. Contrary to the principal's stated position that "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," students were, in fact, safe Monday despite even bigger protests than were planned.
But even before that outcome was known, it was unreasonable to prohibit high schoolers from donning controversial tees based on the logic that they couldn't otherwise be safe from a hypothetical pro-police zealot bent on hurting them (just as it would've been wrong to ban "Blue Lives Matter" tees for fear of anti-cop zealots).
Any rational assessment of risk would conclude that the controversial t-shirts almost certainly posed less danger than the car ride from Mendecino to Fort Bragg and back, or the possibility of on court injury or team fights inherent in high school athletics. And if there's any time when a small degree of danger ought to be tolerated in a liberal democracy, it's precisely when the ability to speak out on matters of civic importance is at stake. Even in America, there are risks to civic participation, albeit small ones. Should we really assimilate teenagers into democratic life by modeling an intolerance of risk so extreme that it forbids mildly controversial words in the gym of an unusually safe high school? Can a school that cowers so easily in the face of minuscule danger credibly teach students that George Washington, Martin Luther King, and the members of the U.S. armed forces set examples of bravery that ought to be followed?
Apart from the matter of safety, there is a faction of the public that would object to the protest by declaring that school functions are neither the time nor place. But it is worth resisting the increasingly widespread idea that controversial statements should always be kept out of schools, workplaces and privately-owned commercial spaces, as if a democracy's civic life is best conducted in so-called "free speech zones" where controversy is cordoned off from the masses.
That is not to say that any level of disruption should be accommodated at all times and places so long as someone feels they have words of civic importance to display. But people in positions of authority over events, workplaces or schools should, when called to exercise discretion, follow the lead of the NBA rather than Fort Bragg High School. If civic speech is relatively unlikely to present any major obstacle to conducting the business at hand, it ought to be welcomed as a show of respect for its importance as a core part of participatory government.