Five St. Louis Rams players held their own Ferguson protest before their game Sunday afternoon, walking onto the field during pre-game introductions with their hands raised above their heads in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” pose that has become a fixture of the protests that followed the police killing of teenager Michael Brown in August.
Rams wide receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens, and Kenny Britt and tight end Jared Cook, all black, entered the field ahead of the rest of their teammates with their hands raised in the air.
Britt also wrote Brown’s name and “My Kids Matter” on the wrist tape he wore during the game, as he posted on Instagram afterward:
Now, the St. Louis Police Officers Association wants the NFL to take action against the players, saying in a statement that it was “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.”
“The SLPOA is calling for the players involved to be disciplined and for the Rams and the NFL to deliver a very public apology,” the statement said, adding that officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Brown, had been “exonerated” when a grand jury declined to bring charges against him last week.
The statement ends with a note from the union’s business manager, Jeff Roorda, warning the NFL against “violent thugs” protesting in Ferguson.
“I’d remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser’s products,” Roorda said. “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 is a former police officer who has pushed back against reform ideas that have become popular in the wake of Brown’s death, including the idea that police should wear body cameras. Roorda, a Missouri state representative who lost a state senate race in November, also helped run a fundraising campaign for Wilson. According to the Los Angeles Times, he has previously advocated for legislation that would have kept the names of police officers involved in shootings secret unless charges were brought against them.
Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, a native of St. Louis, also paid tribute to Brown by writing “RIP Mike Brown” on his shoes during Sunday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The NFL said Monday that it will not take disciplinary action against the players involved in the protest.
“We respect and understand the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation,” spokesperson Brian McCarthy told USA Today Sports in a statement.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Monday night that Rams Vice President of Football Operations Kevin Demoff apologized for the players’ “Hands Up” protest in a phone call to St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar on Monday morning. The basis for the report is an email Belmar sent to members of the department, which said that Demoff “wanted to take the opportunity to apologize to our department on behalf of the Rams for the ‘Hands Up’ gesture that some players took the field with yesterday.” Demoff, the email continued, “clearly regretted that any members of the Ram’s [sic] organization would act in a way that minimized the outstanding work that police officers and departments carry out each and every day.”
The Rams released their own statement later that did not clarify whether Demoff or anyone else from the franchise had apologized, instead saying that it had “positive discussions” with Belmar and other police officials across the area, and that the Rams “will continue to build on what have always been strong and valuable relationships with local law enforcement and the greater St. Louis community as we come together to help heal our region.”
Demoff, meanwhile, told ESPN reporter Nick Wagoner that he didn’t apologize, before adding that he “expressed remorse” about how the protest was received:
"At no time in any of the conversations did I apologize for the actions of our players." — Kevin Demoff to me just a moment ago.
— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) December 2, 2014
Demoff said he expressed remorse about how the actions of the players were construed but did not apologize for the actions themselves.
— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) December 2, 2014
It remains completely unclear whether Demoff apologized for the protest, or what those “positive discussions” actually entailed.