As protests of police violence continued over the weekend in Ferguson, Missouri, where a local police officer shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown last week, the St. Louis Rams came up with an idea to reach out to some young members of their community. According to The Monday Morning Quarterback’s Robert Klemko, a Rams official notified three local high school football teams that their players could attend the team’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday for free.
Watching the violence over Michael Brown’s killing unfold in Ferguson last week, a Rams staffer thought of the high schoolers, specifically, the boys who are supposed to play in their first football game of the season this weekend. Rams manager of fan development & alumni relations Kyle Eversgerd put in a call to coaches at McCluer High, McCluer North and McCluer South; there would be 75 free tickets awaiting each team if they chose to come to Saturday’s preseason game at the Edward Jones Dome.
“In light of everything going on it just kind of hit me,” says Eversgerd, whose job includes outreach with local high schools. “I can’t imagine with all that stuff going on, how tough it must be to practice. We were able to get them away from it all.”
So as hundreds of protesters faced off with police on the now-infamous West Florissant Avenue on Saturday night in Ferguson, leaving a man critically wounded by gunfire just yards from the homes of area children, the boys from three local teams were at their first NFL game, watching Aaron Rodgers and Sam Bradford from the 400 level. Said McCluer coach Mario McDonald, “Our kids are focused on this season, but I worry about them out here, to be honest.”
Klemko reported that many of the players from the local high schools the Rams invited to the game are themselves “angry with police and inclined to protest” over Brown’s death, and they witnessed protests on the way to the game Saturday.
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher had previously issued a statement mourning Brown’s death. “It’s very, very tragic because of the loss of life,” Fisher said last week. “Very, very tragic. We don’t have any details and everything, but just feel very, very bad for the family and the loss and hope that they can get things sorted out and get things settled down.”
Aeneas Williams, a Hall of Fame defensive back who played four seasons for the Rams and is now a pastor in Ferguson, visited the protest sites over the weekend.
Brown, who according to an autopsy was shot at least six times by officer Darren Wilson, did not attend high school in Ferguson and did not play football — his uncle described him to the Washington Post as a “gentle giant” who was “too timid” for the sport last week.
Hosting the players at the game, of course, won’t fix the deep-seated racial tensions between the people and police in the area, the militarization of the police response to legitimate and largely peaceful protests, the long list of problems and policies that have contributed to all of this, and, most basically and importantly, the shooting death of an unarmed black man, the type of which is breathtakingly common all across our country. But it’s a nice gesture from the local football team to members of the community it is a part of, and hopefully it provided a moment of respite from the chaos for the players who got a chance to attend.