NFL won't punish St. Louis Rams for 'Hands up, Don't Shoot' protest

The St. Louis police union wants a punishment and apology for the 'hands up, don't shoot' gesture by five players on the St. Louis Rams football team Sunday.

AP Photo/L.G. Patterson
St. Louis Rams' Tre Mason, left, is congratulated by Kenny Britt with the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" pose after catching a 35-yard pass for a touchdown during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in St. Louis.

The St. Louis police union has demanded that St. Louis Rams players who came out for Sunday's game in a "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture be punished by the team and the NFL.

But the NFL has thrown its hands up in its own gesture of resignation.

“We respect and understand the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation,” Brian McCarthy, vice president of communications for the National Football League (NFL) replied by email when asked if the NFL would be stepping into the fray between the Rams and St. Louis Police Officers Association (SLPOA).

Calls to the St. Louis Rams management were not returned. 

Five Rams' players – Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt, Chris Givens and Jared Cook – made the gesture while coming onto the field before Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders.

Ferguson, where white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown, is 12 miles from the Edward Jones Dome.

Testimony from the St. Louis County grand jury shows that the majority of witnesses to the event (16 of 29), according to one analysis by PBS News, said that Brown had his hands up at the time of the shooting. 

In the wake of the unrest following a grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson, emotions and tempers have boiled over both in the streets during protests and on social media. The hands up pose has been at times a protest touchstone, and at others, a flashpoint. 

The protest by the Rams players reminded some of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the two American sprinters who made a black power salute atop the podium during the 1968 Summer Olympics. As The Christian Science Monitor wrote: "At a time when African-American activists are trying to resurrect the spirit of the civil rights era, the Rams pregame Sunday was only the smallest reminder of how those convulsive years swept onto Olympic podiums and into the ring."

Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that the gesture wasn't used as an indication that they were taking sides. “No, not at all,” Britt told reporters. “ ... We just wanted to let the (Ferguson) community know that we support them.”

The Rams players made their statement on the field, and then the SLPOA had one of their own that included calling for punishment for the players and a full apology.

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 eye-witness 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 over-and-over again."

The full police union statement can be seen online. via

 “The police association is protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution to express its opinions and apparently had done so," says Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition in San Rafael, Calif., in a phone interview. “However, The Rams players are protected under that same amendment,” Mr. Scheer adds.

“It’s not an incitement to riot. It’s a symbolic political protest. We need debate. This is an example of freedom of expression that the Constitution encourages. We must not seek to squash this, but rather welcome it as a non-violent expression,' he says.

Lauri Stevens, of Newbury, Mass., founder and principal consultant with LAwS Communications, which assists the law enforcement profession with the implementation of interactive media technologies, says in an email, that the SLPOA made the right move.

“Police have really been through the mill here. They don’t deserve this [gesture made by the Rams],” Ms. Stevens writes. “As for the Rams situation, what those players did is highly offensive and certainly didn’t contribute anything helpful to an already very tense situation.”

Stevens adds by email. “That gesture has come to have a very specific meaning and only inflames the situation more than it already is. I think it’s completely appropriate that the police association spoke out against these actions. They represent the police officers who have been through hell the last few months. The Ferguson and Saint Louis Police don’t deserve that, nor do police officers who serve us all around the country.”

Stevens suggests that the St. Louis Rams have done damage to their fraternal order of police fan base nationwide. “This type of behavior has no place on an NFL football field and those players should be ashamed of their behavior. I think the RAMs, if nothing else, have lost a great deal of support among police all over North America,” Stevens writes. “Doesn’t the NFL fines players if they dance excessively in the end zone?”

However, Stevens adds that the Ferguson police have not done themselves any favors, she adds later by phone. The police department's "social media – it almost looks completely undirected. There doesn’t seems to be any kind of strategy at all there.”

“Frankly, right now, the best thing to do may be just stop talking,” Stevens says in a phone interview. “Maybe, just give it a rest and let everyone heal. Then come back to it with cooler heads.”

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