Wednesday, December 3, 2014

St. Louis Rams and "Hands Up, Don't Shoot"
While working off turkey hangovers, many Americans who tune into the NFL just wanted a nice slate football to conclude the holiday weekend and put off thinking about the looming work week.

But five St. Louis Rams wide receivers -- Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt, Jared Cook, and Chris Givens -- brought those tuning into the Rams-Raiders game back to another reality they may have been trying to escape: the protests in Ferguson. In unison with a common phrase and gesture of the ongoing struggle that has spread to cities across the country, the players came out with their hands up in reference to "hands up, don't shoot."

The gesture may have gone unnoticed by some, as it was just a part of the pre-game introductions. But now it lives across the internet, bridging sports fans and casual news observers alike. 

Thoughts and opinions on the action were strong to both poles, which has been common with most topics of Ferguson.* However, one of the most widely talked about -- and criticized -- statements may have came from the St. Louis Police Officers Association, which said the action of the players was "offensive" among other things.**

What followed was a reported apology from a Rams executive, then the Rams and the executive denying the apology, then the SLPOA and St. Louis P.D. turning to dictionary definitions of what an apology is. Deadspin has the details; I'm not interested in that for this purpose.

Although your opinion on the players' action depends on your opinions of the struggle in Ferguson as a whole, it also depends on how you feel about athletes speaking out.

There are many people who want athletes to take public stands on social issues more often. They believe athletes have the platform and are frustrated when it goes unused. Even on a lesser scale, many want athletes to speak out more often to the media about team on-goings and drama. 

On the other side, many people simply want athletes to keep their mouths shut and just play the game. They don't want politics or team dramas mixed in with their beloved and innocent sports. 

What I found interesting about the five Rams' gesture -- which can be seen in other areas of the Ferguson struggle, like with the protesters -- has been the tendency to demonize them and their message. This has come from both sides of the aforementioned fans. We see this in any kind of protest in sports, whether it be college athletes wearing #APU on their gear or all the way up to John Carlos and Tommie Smith's gesture at the 1968 Olympics. 

I guess what I'm asking is, why isn't it a natural instinct for some to listen to those who have something to say about an issue? Is it really that so many don't want to be inconvenienced with the thought? Can people toe this line?

How can we -- as a sporting society and a society as a whole -- provide a better and more inclusive environment for those who speak out?

The question bridges so many topics, and it's a question that begs to be answered.

* - I find it interesting that this was a major sticking point for so many people as well as the St. Louis police. The Rams have been supportive throughout the struggle. They hosted Ferguson area high schools for football practices, inviting them to games as well. Now that it's the players acting alone, there was some outrage. Just a dynamic I wanted to point out.

** - Did anybody else read the statement the St. Louis Police Officers Association put out? It's littered racist undertones and condescending sports allusions. In one part, the statement refers to the protesters in Ferguson as "thugs." The word has become so negatively charged in a racial context that Seahawks corner Richard Sherman has called it the new, acceptable way to call someone the N-word. He's not the only one. Think about that for a moment. Also, "Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play." Phrasings like this one -- it's not the only football metaphor -- are problematic because it's running under a flawed assumption that football players and sports fans 1) are somehow not intelligent enough to understand in non-sports wording, and 2) think of everyday events only within a sports context. It's not even subtle in this case.


Kevin Rossi is a senior Drexel Sport Management major with minors in Communications and Business Administration. Since joining the SMTSU, Kevin has worked his way up the ladder to President. Currently, Kevin is serving as the Sports Information Assistant for Drexel Athletics and  intern at Comcast SportsNet in web production. Kevin has writing experience with, The Triangle, Temple University, and various outlets in a freelance capacity. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

Connect with Kevin Rossi on LinkedIn.

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