Yesterday, several members of the St. Louis Rams football team made their entrances doing a sort of dance with their hands upraised. This was understood to be a gesture of solidarity with the family and friends of Michael Brown, and a gesture disapproving of the grand jury's decision not to indict the cop who shot Brown to death in Ferguson MO earlier this year. The gesture was noted with great disapproval by the St. Louis Police Officers Association. The statement issued in their name by one Jeff Roorda chides the players for their ingratitude to the police who protect them. In Roorda's account the cops bravely stood between the Rams and last week's angry mobs, and this is the thanks they get!
It gets better. Roorda wants the National Football League to discipline the offending players and hints at a boycott by police if the league fails to satisfy him. "I'd remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs
burning down buildings that buy their advertiser's products," he writes, "It's cops
and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do." Notice how he's shaping the context of his complaint. The Rams presumably were protesting the grand jury decision, but Roorda implies that they were also supporting the Ferguson rioters and other disturbers of the peace.
Best of all, Roorda attempts to preempt any First Amendment defense of the Rams players by asserting his own First Amendment right to demand their punishment. "I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply
exercising their First Amendment rights. Well I've got news for people
who think that way, cops have first amendment rights too, and we plan to
exercise ours." In truth, as we should know by now, the players would not have a First Amendment defense against disciplinary action by the Rams management or the NFL, each being a private entity, though they do have a strong union that would certainly wage a vigorous defense against any such action. Still, the extraordinary part of Roorda's screed is his claim that his First Amendment right to demand the silencing of the players trumps their First Amendment right to protest the Ferguson decision. In effect, he's claiming that people have no right to protest that decision, first because the decision is settled law, and second because protesting it hurts the feelings of cops. And we know the poor dears simply can't function properly if their feelings are hurt or if they ever feel anxious about accountability for anything they do.
Roorda sees things this way: you either accept the grand jury's decision uncritically or you endorse riots and looting. There's at least one other way to see things. Knowing whatever you do about the fatal incident in Ferguson, if you feel that Michael Brown deserved death, then you support the cops and the grand jury. If you don't think he deserved to die, and you think there should be some kind of accountability for cops who kill unarmed people, no matter what the circumstances, you stand with the peaceful protesters, including the Rams players.
As for the Rams management, I don't think they'll mess with success. After the offense before the kickoff, the offense kept on going, and St. Louis beat the Oakland Raiders, 52-0. Athletes are a superstitious lot, so I'd expect to see a repeat of the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture before every remaining Rams game this season. It's just too bad that they didn't start this earlier. They're only 5-7 now; had they been doing this all along, they might be on their way to the Super Bowl.