In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October was all about the color pink, even in sports. MLB players wore pink wristbands. NFL teams wore pink wristbands and pink-edged hats, and in some cases, pink cleats. Everywhere you looked, pink was in vogue.
Evidently Mendenhall (Miss.) High School football coach Chris Peterson missed the memo.
According to the Associated Press, WLBT.com and USA Today, among other outlets, Peterson kicked 17-year-old placekicker Coy Sheppard, above, off the Mendenhall football team when Sheppard attempted to wear pink cleats in a practice following a game in October. As Sheppard explains in the video above, courtesy of WLBT.com, coaches ridiculed the kicker for wearing the shoes during the prior game, but he showed up for the team's Monday practice wearing the pink cleats regardless. Now the senior, who relied on academic credit from playing football to help fulfill graduation requirements, might not receive his diploma on time.
That inspired the player to file a lawsuit against the Simpson County School District, whose deputy superintendent, Tom Duncan, insisted that Sheppard was kicked off the team for failing to follow his coaches' instructions, not for the color of the shoes.
"It had absolutely nothing to do with lack of support for breast cancer awareness," Duncan told USA Today.
Yet the color of the shoes did have everything to do with breast cancer awareness. The cleats were a gift from Sheppard's 82-year-old great grandmother, a breast cancer survivor. Sheppard wore the cleats to honor her and his grandmother, also a breast cancer survivor.
"I do understand and we don't condone being disrespectful to the coaches," Joey Sheppard, Coy's father, told WLBT.com. "But he was standing up for what he thought was right. ...
"He's had five or six different colored shoes throughout his last two years of kicking for Mendenhall and when he got the pink shoes that's when it became an issue. I think it is the pink shoes."
While the coaching staff may have been the clear aggressors in this case, Sheppard still tried to apologize in order to gain reinstatement to the Mendenhall team. Evidently the coaches gave him the cold shoulder, ensuring that the teen's high school football career came to an early end because of a pair of shoes.
Now Sheppard's lawsuit seeks his official reinstatement to the Mendenhall football team, for his personal record to be cleared and for any monetary damages or donations to go straight to the American Cancer Society.
"I wish it could have been handled differently, where there could have been some compromise," Oliver Diaz, Sheppard's lawyer and a former Mississippi state Supreme Court justice said. "I think all the kid wants is to play football and finish out the year."
That isn't going to happen without a fierce fight from the school district, which is backing its football coach to the hilt.
"This young man was defiant and I don't know many coaches in the state that wouldn't do the same thing. And his dad understands completely," Duncan told WLBT.com.
[Rewind: Cheerleaders challenge skimpy uniform]
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