F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that the sign of first-rate intelligence "is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." It's something worth contemplating, because when it comes to discussing police brutality and the need to appreciate and respect law enforcement, this nation is showing anything but first-rate thinking.

The latest example concerns someone's decision to ban the Mendocino High School girls basketball team from a tournament this week for wearing T-shirts reading "I Can't Breathe" during warm-ups.

Fort Bragg High School officials quickly reversed themselves on Monday following threats of a lawsuit. They said the players could wear the shirts as long as they do not cause problems. But by then the tournament was already underway, and the damage had been done. Not enough members of the Mendocino girls team reportedly were willing to accept the conditions, and another high school had already been invited to take their place anyway.

But this didn't stop some players, as well as their supporters, from gathering outside the tournament on Monday in protest. As team co-captain Kiera Pohlmann said during the rally, "We have opinions, too. We should be able to express them."

Yes, they should, especially when their speech is limited to the simple words, "I can't breathe." As many recall, that was the phrase uttered by an unarmed Eric Garner as he was being wrestled to the ground by police in Staten Island, N.Y., a confrontation that resulted in Garner's death. The exoneration of police in that incident added further fuel to a national debate about officer-involved deaths, one already inflamed by the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether donning the three-worded T-shirts -- clothing already showcased by professional athletes -- contributes much to the debate about excessive use of force. But there's nothing reasonable about kicking a group of teenage girls out of a tournament over what should be regarded as free speech. It's punitive, vindictive and, as evident by the national attention drawn to the actions by administrators of the Fort Bragg tournament, counterproductive.

Fort Bragg officials say the T-shirts are disrespectful for a community still mourning the death of a sheriff's deputy killed by an Oregon fugitive in March. The death of Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino was certainly tragic, as were the shooting deaths of New York police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were ambushed on Dec. 20 by a gunman who later took his own life. But there's room enough in this discussion to mourn the brutal killings of those in uniform as well as the needless deaths of unarmed civilians. All lives matter.

It's an idea that demands breathing space.

Editorial by The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.