St. Louis Rams players’ actions justified

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Amidst the backlash from the grand jury decision not to indict former police officer Darren Wilson in the Ferguson case, the St. Louis Rams were the latest to display their support of protests across the country.
Five players, tight end Jared Cook and wide receivers Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Chris Givens, emerged from the tunnel and walked onto the field with their hands raised above their heads. This, of course, is the same way some witnesses say 18-year-old Michael Brown was positioned before being fatally shot by Wilson in August.
The Rams players’ actions are the kind of peaceful statement that should be part of the public discourse after a wrenching, divisive event.
However, this simple gesture of solidarity with the protestors has left the St. Louis Police Officers Administration fuming.
In an official statement issued by the SLPOA, the officers claimed to be “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.”
It is ridiculous that this organization feels they have the capability to speak for the population of police officers throughout the United States, especially in a manner that demands punishment and an apology.
This issue spans further than the conflicting opinions of what happened in the death of Michael Brown. It concerns five football players exercising their first amendment rights on a very public scale.
To be criticized for showing solidarity with protesters across the nation is irrational. In fact, other police officers have already commended the actions by the five Rams players.
“We think that their actions were commendable and that they should not be ridiculed, disciplined or punished for taking a stand on this very important issue which is of great concern around the world and especially in the community where these players work,” the Ethical Society of Police of St. Louis said in a statement this week.
The group has about 220 members from the city’s police force in its ranks, said the society’s general counsel, Gloria McCollum. It describes itself as “the primary voice of African-American police officers in St. Louis city.”
The statement by the SLPOA goes on to criticize players for taking such a stand at a time when police were ensuring the safety of the game. The association’s business manager, Jeff Roorda, demanded that the players be punished and that the team issue a “very public apology.” “I’d remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertisers’ products,” says the spokesman. “It’s cops and the good people of St. Louis.”
Ironically, the St. Louis Police Officers Association has no black officers on its governing board and “a minimal amount of African-American members,” the Ethical Society of Police said.
The Ethical Society of Police goes on to say that the demand for an apology and punishment doesn’t represent the views of most African American officers in the city.
The NFL wisely chose not to heed the officers’ demand — respecting its players’ right to free expression and its audience’s ability to formulate their own opinions of the situation.
The Rams players have every right to respond to a national event in their backyard, and to recognize their role as community figures. In the past week, other Rams players have spoken about wanting to support people who have lost businesses to looting and arson in Ferguson, as well as kids who have missed school in the wake of violence.
They’re correct that, in times of crisis, sports can serve as an escape and a rallying point. And they should be welcome, as individuals, to lend their voices, and their arms, to the public conversation.