The Rams’ “Hands Up!” Gesture: Of Course The Players Deserved be Disciplined

rams protest 1201

The five St. Louis Rams who entered their NFL game last week with their hands up aren’t going to be disciplined by the league, for reasons that have nothing to do with the appropriateness of their conduct. The NFL is up to its faceguards in bad public relations already, and understandably wants to avoid wading into the Ferguson quagmire and being perceived to be taking sides, a move with no up-sides at all. Sportswriter Sally Jenkins also took issue with the St. Louis police demanding that the players be punished, in an emotional statement that seemed to threaten vague consequences if they were not. She was right to point out that government entities may not use threats of non-performance of their duties to members of the public in order to control their speech, like, say, the Federal government is doing now to try to force Dan Snyder to change the name of his Washington, D.C. NFL team.

Jenkins’ conclusion, however, was an ethics mess:

“Five members of the St. Louis Rams made an edgy gesture on Sunday, and you may not agree with them. But they merely joined a long tradition of athletes using their celebrity for symbolic public protest, and the NFL was right to reject the call to punish them. Punish them for what, after all? For showing an alertness and sensitivity to current events in their community, and holding an opinion on them?”

1. The “long tradition” argument is “everybody does it,” and nothing better. Professional athletes are paid to play games and entertain. Few of them have any qualifications or expertise that elevate the value of their opinions on public policy and politics above that of the regulate citizens watching them, and it is an abuse of their position and an exploitation of the venue for any athlete to exploit both to make a personal statement. Earlier, Jenkins says that to punish the Rams players “would also smack of 1968, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos were expelled from the Olympic Games for their black-gloved salutes,” as if that’s an argument. Smith and Carlos should have been expelled. The Olympics wasn’t theirs to co-opt for national political statements, no matter how valid or worthy. The Rmas players can hold opinions, and nobody is saying otherwise. Once they are in uniform and on the field, however, their opinions are not for display. They don’t own the forum.

2. People go to entertainment to be entertained, not to be bombarded by the same controversies thy paid significant sums to escape for a while.  I have written  in the past about singers lecturing captive audiences about current events, and the same applies to the Rams: the conduct is unfair, disrespectful and dishonest—a bait and switch.

3. The players embarrassed their employers, the Rams, and placed the team in a public relations dilemma. Any employee of any company would risk punishment by doing the same.

4. I heard one of the players involved say that they weren’t intending any disrespect to the police, but were making “a statement.” What statement do they think “Hands up!” means? As I interpret the gesture, it means

  • Darren Wilson executed Michael Brown.
  • Police routinely kill young black men for no reason, except their race.
  • The players are accusing a local police officer of murder and local authorities of letting him get away with it.

No, nothing disrespectful to the police in that…

The Rams protest was wrong, on the facts and in the circumstances under which it occurred.

18 thoughts on “The Rams’ “Hands Up!” Gesture: Of Course The Players Deserved be Disciplined

  1. I just wonder if the same players are going to keep doing the gesture – and how many, if any, players and fans will be joining them. It’s easy to imagine a referee making a gesture like that eventually, when confronted by some angry player or coach during the heat of a game, over some call or non-call. Can anybody report on reactions among the spectators that day to the Ram players’ gesture? (Wishing to read that booing actually occurred. But, I reckon Jack considers booing unethical; he may have addressed that.)

  2. Sorry, Lucky (glad you changed your moniker. I have never been able to spell ‘Eeyore’ properly without looking it up.) Didn’t watch the game, as St. Louis is not a team in which I have any particular interest.

    Just a bit of an odd note…the referee’s signal a touchdown with that same “Hands up” gesture.

    • Hey there, d_d (I hope you don’t mind my abbreviating of your commenter name) – glad you’re OK with my current name. I am not a follower of the Rams, either. But I do know what the touchdown (and extra point, and field goal) signal is, and it’s funny (for laughing at myself), because I honestly didn’t even notice right away how the players’ gesture is so similar.

      I would like to think it would be fair comeuppance to the moronic chanters of “hands-up-don’t-shoot!” if, the next time there is a highly publicized funeral for a cop shot on duty, a bunch of supporters of the dead cop renders their own protest at a Rams’ game with the same gesture, chanting instead: “COP-KILLERS SCORE ONE!”

      But of course, the morons who need de-moronizing would fail to comprehend how that chant and gesture mocks their moronism. (And Jack would probably say that in my thoughts I am entertaining “tit-for-tat.”)

      • I have no problems with d_d at all, and Jack sometimes uses just DD. Whatever lights your fire. I like your idea with the officers funeral, but, like you, I doubt it would serve the purpose of “de-moron-izing” anyone. Some of these folks are just too far into stupid to save.

  3. Much as I love to see Ethics Alarms messages (and sometimes respond), I feel overwhelmed when I open my inbox after several days. Was there a major fire? Could we have just one alarm, or maybe sometimes two, per day?

  4. Jack…I do have a question, if you don’t mind. How do you write these pieces so quickly? Yes, you might have an occasional spelling error but the writing itself is done very well. The output is pretty amazing and I know it’s not like you don’t have a life. So…what’s the secret? Practice?

    • You’re very kind. I’m basically a first draft=final draft writer…have been since before high school. I plan them out in my head and write. People have been asking me your question my whole life. So practice is as good an explanation as any.

  5. What did you think about the people who blocked the highway for Ferguson protests? They did that around my neck of the woods, and I was not very happy.

  6. One of the first things I thought of upon seeing those morons pull this prank off was Smith and Carlos at Mexico City. I even remember how one, being interviewed for TV, arrogantly tried to spin it into some kind of soaring statement with mystical symbology. It was actually nothing more than a race hate statement on a world stage. The Rams’ incident wasn’t as widespread, but the message was pretty much the same. Likely, they had little fear of penalty, knowing that the NFL- as with so many once principled institutions- is now run by cowards and incompetents.

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