On Sunday, five St. Louis Rams came out of the team’s tunnel with their hands to the air, a show of solidarity to Ferguson, Missouri’s — and, indeed, America’s, too — struggles with race relations following the shooting death of Michael Brown. The player’s act symbolized much more than just Ferguson, but the insistence of a fact that’s been long ignored in this country: that black lives matter.
Those who disagree with the actions of these players insist that the media-spun narrative — that Michael Brown stood facing office Darren Wilson, hands in the air, shouting, “Don’t shoot” — being an incorrect (in the eyes of a grand jury) account of the actual event should have be enough to prevent players from using it as the narrative that informed their gestures. In effect, their actions are furthering a false narrative. Maybe so.
Some who agree with the players cite the first amendment. Of course, players are people, too, complete with their own opinions and value systems. Just because they represent a brand — in this case, an NFL team — doesn’t mean they should separate their hearts from their heads. Players are often silent in the face of injustice because it is, indeed, very easy for a owner and player with conflicting social stances to part ways on account of “performance” rather than politics.
It’s important to note this idea that the first amendment should protects us from professional punishment, though. The Rams players are certainly allowed to exercise their rights as citizens. They did so non-violently and silently, and that created waves that rippled outward into both praise and criticism. Martin Luther King would have been proud, I think. A dialogue is overdue.
We can’t, though, pick and choose what we decide is free speech and admirable, and what is hateful and a fireable offense. Toronto-based sportscaster Damien Goddard was fired for his support of “traditional” marriage. His stance, obviously, is a crazy one, but it’s a stance that some people — fortunately it’s a number that is getting smaller — have. The Ferguson story is a polarizing story. People have chosen sides. It should be okay to challenge each other if, in the long run, our challenges and discussions make the world, particularly in regard to our relationships with each other, a better place. I stand with the players, but only if their protest symbolized something larger, not just Ferguson, but the historically underserved population of people of color, reminded us how far we still have to go, and a way to figure out how to get there.