No less than six players from the St. Louis Rams made a bold and necessary statement before their 52-0 shutout against Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey, Jared Cook and Chris Givens entered the field during the pre-game introductions making the “Hands up, don’t shoot” gesture that has become a symbol of the Ferguson resistance movement against state-sanctioned violence. At least one player, Britt (who was credited with conceptualizing the protest), had Mike Brown’s name written on his one of his wristbands. Running back Tre Mason reportedly made the “hands up” gesture after scoring an eight-yard run in the last quarter of the game.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Coach Jeff Fisher have yet to comment.
Unsurprisingly, the St. Louis County Police Officers Association is displeased with the athletes’ decision to take a stand against their violence. Surprisingly, the SLPOA had the unmitigated gall to release a statement condemning the action, which could not have been more offensive had they used the word “boy.” Some excerpts:
The St. Louis Police Officers Association is profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory…
…SLPOA Business Manager Jeff Roorda said, “…now that the evidence is in and Officer Wilson’s account has been verified by physical and ballistic evidence as well as eyewitness testimony, which led the grand jury to conclude that no probable cause existed that Wilson engaged in any wrongdoing, it is unthinkable that hometown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven [sic] over-and-over again… Our officers have been working 12-hour shifts for over a week, they had days off including Thanksgiving canceled so that they could defend this community from those on the streets that perpetuate this myth that Michael Brown was executed by a brother police officer and then, as the players and their fans sit safely in their dome under the watchful protection of hundreds of St. Louis’s finest, they take to the turf to call a now-exonerated officer a murderer…”
Roorda’s tone, and his suggestion that it is “good” people like himself and other members of the force to whom the Rams should be loyal, as opposed to young Black men who look like them, sounds like that of a disgruntled slave owner calling Massa from down the street and telling him to get his chattel in check:
“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. I’d remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser’s products. It’s cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it’s not the NFL and the Rams, then it’ll be cops and their supporters.”
Roorda’s troubling history of anti-citizen behavior as both a police officer and a member of the Missouri House of Representatives (who lost a re-election bid in November) is well documented, so his response is to be expected. But that there wasn’t an adult in the room at the St. Louis County Police Officers Association to rein him is a little more surprising.
Has there ever been a less self-aware group of “leaders” in the country? PR and optics be damned, get your boys in check, Kroenke!
No word yet on how or if the NFL’s embattled (and rightfully so) commissioner will comment publicly. Seems like it would be a bad move for Roger Goodell, considering the recent controversy over his mishandling of the Ray Rice situation. It’s hard to put anything past him at this point—especially when we are talking about a group of Black men doing something unapologetically Black.
One wonders how the Rams’ owner will respond to this situation. It should be noted that Kroenke’s wife Ann is the daughter of Wal-Mart co-founder Bud Walton. Ferguson protestors have led numerous Wal-Mart protests/shutdowns across the country in recent weeks, the first two taking place on October 12—ironically enough, at the same time as a protest at a St. Louis Rams game, which I attended along with leaders of some of the local protest movements. As banners were dropped in two locations in the stadium (and hours of demonstration followed outside after the game), I wondered how the players were internalizing everything that was going on, knowing how many of their fans were Darren Wilson supporters.
The relative silence of Black athletes in the face of Brown’s killing, the many subsequent police killings, and the recent uprisings across the country has been deafening, especially considering how many Black men keep St. Louis’s sports teams afloat. Hands Up United leader Tory Russell says he was happy to see members of the Rams squad stand up for the cause, but hopes this isn’t the end of their support. “I’m glad they put their hands up, but I wish they had come out after the game to see all the people who were protesting outside the stadium. If they know that [Mike Brown’s killing] was wrong now, didn’t they know on August 9?”
“It’s not too late for them to join the movement, we aren’t stopping or slowing down anytime soon.”
Jamilah Lemieux is EBONY.com’s Senior Editor. Views expressed here are her own.