Rams' 'hands up, don't shoot' protest part of a sports tradition
The world of sports is still buzzing about the act of protest put on by St. Louis Rams players on Sunday.
Five stars of the Missouri-based NFL franchise entered their game against the Oakland Raiders recreating the “hands up, don’t shoot” stance made popular by activists in Ferguson, the site of the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, on August 9.
Brown’s supporters believe that the late teenager had his hands up and was surrendering when he was killed by former police officer Darren Wilson. However, Wilson and Ferguson authorities insist that Brown was “charging” at police when he was fatally shot.
The Rams players who showed solidarity with Ferguson protesters are winning both praise and condemnation from Americans on both sides of the Michael Brown debate. The St. Louis Police Officers Association has condemned the Rams organization and called for the NFL to levy a punishment against the players who participated in the demonstration. Meanwhile, the players themselves are sticking by their actions.
“I just think there has to be a change,” Cook told the Associated Press on Sunday. “There has to be a change that starts with the people that are most influential around the world.”
Of course, the Rams are far from the first professional athletes to use their considerable influence to make a political or social statement. Their silent protest recalls the infamous black power salute John Carlos and Tommie Smith made during the 1968 Olympics or the solemn “hoodie photo” which the Miami Heat posed for in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case in 2012.
Athletes are often discouraged from taking on contentious issues for fear that it could alienate their fanbase and affect their bottom line. Nevertheless, for decades, sports stars have bucked the trend and expressed their First Amendment rights.