In response to the most heated and controversial issue in the US right now, the murders of unarmed black men by white police officers, protests have taken many forms. Violent riots broke out in Ferguson, MO as after Darren Wilson had not be indicted. After the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York, Al Sharpton arranged a more peaceful protest, a national march in Washington DC. Even those who didn’t physically participate in demonstrations still voiced their opinions via social media; the hash tag #blacklivesmatter began trending on Twitter. While obviously looting stores and violent demonstrations don’t solve anything, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and should be allowed to voice this opinion if not inflicting harm on others. However, last Sunday, when St. Louis Rams players made a grand gesture during player introductions, there was a lot of outrage.
Teammates Jared Cook, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, and Kenny Britt took the field with their hands in the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” pose. This action contradicts the argument in Dreier and Candaele’s article “Where Are the Jocks for Justice?” This article suggests that athletes do not take political stands because of cultural changes and control by endorsers. While demands by the St. Louis Police Officers Association for the NFL to apologize do suggest that there may be some power over athletes that prevents them from voicing their opinions, the unapologetic nature after the young men’s display suggests that they make their own decisions.
While black St. Louis police officers said the actions of the players were “commendable,” the SLPOA was outraged, saying that players “chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury.” Statements were also made that this demonstration was a direct act of disrespect to law enforcers, and further encourages people to rebel against the law.
The demands to the NFL to apologize were not met. In fact, when reports that the NFL had apologized, the executive vice president of football operations for the Rams, Kevin Demoff, made a statement that there was definitely not apology made. He said that he only “expressed regret for any perceived disrespect of law enforcement.” He also made clear the intentions of the players’ peaceful protest by saying their goal was to “show support for positive change in [their] community.” He argued that this was protected by their First Amendment right, and that they did nothing wrong.
This connects with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”. He did not apologize for exercising his First Amendment right, because by peacefully protesting, he did nothing wrong. Like MLK Jr., these five players from the St. Louis Rams should be viewed as examples of peaceful protesting. Especially at the time in our nation, we could use more of these types of examples.