The most memorable thing about the St. Louis Rams on Sunday may not be their brutal 52-to-0 shellacking of the Oakland Raiders.
When the Missouri-based NFL team entered Sunday’s game some players symbolically recreated the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” rallying cry of Ferguson protesters who have been active in that city since the police shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, on August 9.
Supporters of Brown have maintained that he had his hands up and was surrendering when Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed him. Wilson and Ferguson authorities dispute that account, claiming that Brown attacked police and posed a deadly threat that day. A grand jury chose not to indict Wilson in the death of Brown last week and the officer has since decided to resign from the police department.
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On Sunday, Rams stars Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens, and Kenny Britt all participated in the demonstration, as they exited their home field tunnel to start the game. “I just think there has to be a change,” Cook told the Associated Press after the Rams’ blowout victory. “There has to be a change that starts with the people that are most influential around the world.”
“I don’t want the people in the community to feel like we turned a blind eye to it,” Britt added. “What would I like to see happen? Change in America.”
The St. Louis Police Officers Association (SLPOA) released a statement early on Monday strongly condemning what they called a “tasteless, offensive and inflammatory” display.
The SLPOA’s business manager Jeff Roorda said, “it is unthinkable that hometown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven over-and-over again.” The SLPOA went on to call the NFL “remarkably hypocritical” for allowing the players to protest and called for them to be disciplined and for the Rams organization to apologize.
“I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Well I’ve got news for people who think that way, cops have First Amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours,” said Roorda.
Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s Vice President of Communications, said in a statement: “We respect and understand the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation.”
This is not the first time a Rams home game has been the site for activism on behalf of Brown. At a Rams-49ers Monday Night Football game in October protesters unfurling signs which read: “Black Lives Matter” before a nationally televised audience.
These Rams players’ show of solidarity was reminiscent of when Miami Heat players posed in hoodies to honor Trayvon Martin back in 2012. When the Los Angeles Clippers wanted to display their displeasure with their owner, Donald Sterling, after racist remarks he’d made privately went viral earlier this year, they purposely wore their warm-up shirts inside out and discarded their team jackets in the center of the court.
In the wake of the grand jury decision in the Brown case, a number of professional athletes have expressed their outrage via social media. New Orleans Saints’ tight end Benjamin Watson penned an open letter this week on the topic which was posted to Facebook and quickly went viral.
“I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes,” Watson wrote. He added that he was frustrated by pop culture’s glorification of confrontations between police and citizens,” he wrote. “I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a ‘threat’ to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.”