With all the brouhaha and general unrest that followed last week’s St. Louis County grand jury announcement that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson won’t be indicted for the shooting death of Michael Brown, the St. Louis Rams have stirred up even more controversy. During Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders, five of the Rams appeared from the tunnel onto the field holding up their hands in the “don’t shoot” gesture that has become synonymous with Michael Brown’s supporters.
There’s been a growing trend over a number of years now for entertainers and athletes to publicly air their views about whichever cause celebre holds their attention for the moment. The problem arises when you consider that most entertainers and athletes, while good at what they do, don’t normally make sound, reasoned judgments about the causes they support. I believe this holds true of the Rams’ little display Sunday. It’s obvious from what they did that they’re ignoring the overwhelming evidence that supports Officer Wilson. No, Michael Brown was not shot in the back, no, he didn’t have his hands raised, and no, he wasn’t an innocent victim of police brutality carried to the extreme.
It’s important to note that none of the Rams who did this went to Ferguson to protest there. As one of the five displaying the gesture at Sunday’s game, tight end Jared Cook said the players have been far too busy to go to Ferguson, adding that “it’s kind of dangerous down there and none of us want to get caught up in anything.”
What the Rams did had the potential to add fuel to an already volatile situation that had already gotten way out of hand in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis. An irresponsible and obviously uninformed gesture such as this also could have set off the Ferguson protesters again with a new round of violence, destruction, and looting. In fact, the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association already said as much in a statement they released calling for a public apology from the Rams and for the participating players to be disciplined. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, however, said there would be no discipline or fines for the players.
That the five players won’t be disciplined is no surprise, nor am I sure they should be. After all, football players have their First Amendment rights also, and the argument could always be made that they were merely exercising them, but as it’s so often been pointed out, having the right of free speech doesn’t give you the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. And that’s essentially what the players did.
Perhaps a better alternative to discipline by the Rams organization or the NFL would be discipline by the those who pay to see the games. Thousands of empty seats for a couple of games would get the Rams’ attention far more than a slap on the wrist by the NFL.