Possibly the most controversial issue in the U.S. right now, the shooting of Michael Brown has had citizens and the people of Ferguson, Missouri in uproar the past couple months. As many people know, Michael Brown raised his arms as a gesture meaning “don’t shoot,” but police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Mr. Brown, thinking that his life was threatened in some way, despite the fact that Mr. Brown was unarmed. Since then, riots and protests have taken place in Ferguson, as well as cities and towns all over the country. Some believe that Officer Wilson shot as a result of racism, while others believe it truly was because he felt threatened. Regardless, Officer Wilson was not indicted, which led to violent protests and the National Guard coming to Ferguson to control the riots (Davey and Bosman). Because of the shooting in Ferguson, the unresolved issue of racism has been the topic of debate throughout the nation. People all over the country are speaking out about this issue and how they feel, including professional athletes.
On November 30, 2014, as the St. Louis Rams came onto the field before their game against the Oakland Raiders, several players came out with their hands in the air with the “Hands up, don’t shoot” pose, referring to the Michael Brown shooting (Belson). As a result, the St. Louis Police Officers Association was outraged over this gesture, saying it was “tasteless, offensive and inflammatory” (Belson). This organization represents the police officers of Ferguson, who believe that the players should be disciplined for this gesture. For some reason, they believe that professional football players don’t have the right to express their own beliefs and opinions on such a controversial topic.
This happens to be very relevant with an article I recently read, titled Where are the Jocks for Justice? (Candaele and Dreier). The article discusses the involvement of professional athletes with politics and their activism with social issues. It talks about how athletes are no longer active in politics because of the corporations and teams that pay them, as well as the unions and media that can put their jobs at risk if they say something they shouldn’t. Most athletes just keep their mouths shut in order to keep their jobs safe. In fact, it was very risky for the St. Louis players to make those gestures at the game. Just like the article said, the police organizations expect that these players be punished for expressing their beliefs on such a heated issue. Most professional athletes choose not to jeopardize their careers by keeping quiet. Fortunately, Jeff Fisher, coach of the Rams, stated that the players would not be punished and that they were simply “exercising their right to free speech” (Belson). The issue now is that the police officers association believes that the players were ignoring the evidence that resulted in Officer Wilson not being charged, and that the gestures were insulting towards cops (Belson).
While the team did later apologize if the gestures offending the police officers, the players will not be penalized and are free to express their beliefs (Belson). Looking at the article on activism with athletes and the lack of activism throughout professional sports, I can see that this situation is very rare in today’s society. It is very difficult for athletes to do anything radical to draw the attention of the media, especially when it comes to controversial issues such as the Michael Brown shooting. I think that it is very important that these St. Louis players do not get punished for their actions. The first amendment applies to professional athletes too, not just ordinary citizens. There needs to be a way for athletes to be protected from their employers so that they can speak out freely. Problems only arise when protests turn into violence and riots, but as long as athletes can keep from initiating violence, they should be able to express their beliefs just as much as anyone. Just like unions protect workers from their employers, I believe that athletes should be protected from their teams and sponsors so that they can express their opinions without there being any consequences. The St. Louis Rams’ players did no harm raising their hands before the game, for they weren’t hurting anyone, they weren’t burning any buildings, and they certainly weren’t breaking any laws. They were simply using their first amendment rights, and showing that they care.