Five football players at a high school in Iowa have been kicked off their team after a picture surfaced on social media of the boys wearing white hoods while standing next to a burning cross. A confederate flag also is featured prominently in the photo and one of the boys was holding a rifle.

Creston/Orient-Macksburg head football coach Brian Morrison told The Des Moines Register that the players are off the team but also said the matter is “ongoing.” Morrison said he could not confirm whether other disciplinary measures had been taken by the school.

The Register reported that some of the boys in the photo are now seeking legal representation and a lawsuit could be pending.

Creston quarterback Zach Boyden-Holmes said he was surprised by the photo. “I thought these guys were my friends,” Boyden-Holmes said. “I just felt shocked and pretty mad to be honest.”

Mark Kende, a law professor from Drake University, told the Register that disciplinary measures by the school could be unconstitutional, saying that the photo likely falls under free speech protections if the it was taken off school grounds. Burning a cross is not a crime in Iowa.

The parents of one of the boys in the photo has stepped forward and issued an apology on their son’s behalf. Jamie and Megan Travis, of Creston, released the following statement:

On behalf of the Travis Family, we sincerely apologize for the hurt and strife we have caused this community. We do not condone the behavior that was expressed in the recent photo that was disseminated throughout various media sources.

We understand that our son has conducted himself in a way that is inappropriate and has caused disruption in the community. Our son recognizes his poor judgment and respectfully asks forgiveness from his classmates, the school and the community. The photo in no way reflects our family values. Our family strongly believes that all individuals are created equally in God’s eyes.

We support Mr. Messerole, Mr. Morrison, the school board and other school officials as they impose the appropriate punishments on our son, including removing him from the football team. Additionally, we support the school as they educate our son and his classmates in helping them understand cultural diversity. As a family we have also taken measures to ensure that our son understands his actions and how they affect others.

Our goal is a peaceful resolution. We want to move forward and embrace our community in eliminating racism in Creston.

Creston High School has been tight-lipped about the matter. Principal Bill Messerole said he is "trying to begin the healing process for all involved and will not comment further."

Is an offensive photo free speech, or was the school justified in removing the players from the football team?
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Andy Berg is Executive Editor of Athletic Business.