A St Louis Rams official and a county police chief differed on Monday about whether the team had apologized for the actions of five players who raised their hands during pre-game festivities in a show of solidarity with Ferguson protesters.
According to the Post-Dispatch, St Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told his staff by e-mail that Kevin Demoff, the executive vice president of football operations for the Rams, called “to apologize to our department” for the players’ action before kickoff on Sunday.
The e-mail from Belmar said Demoff “clearly regretted that any members of the Ram’s organization would act in a way that minimized the outstanding work that police officers carry out each and every day.”
However, later on Monday in an interview with the newspaper, Demoff denied apologizing, though he said he expressed regret in “any offense their officers may have taken.”
“We do believe it is possible to both support our players’ First Amendment rights and support the efforts of local law enforcement as our community begins the process of healing,” Demoff said.
In an e-mail sent to reporters, St Louis County police Sergeant Shawn McGuire said Belmar interpreted Demoff’s comments as an apology.
Jared Cook, Kenny Britt, Chris Givens, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin made a hands up gesture protesters in Ferguson — a suburb of St Louis — have been using since police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
A grand jury did not indict Wilson over the incident, which sparked racially charged protests across the US.
Some witnesses said Brown had his hands up before being shot by officer Wilson.
Wilson told the grand jury that he shot Brown in self defense.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said that neither the team nor the NFL would discipline the players.
Fisher said it was the players’ “choice to exercise their [rights to] free speech,” but he would not comment further on their actions.
“It’s my personal opinion, I firmly believe that it’s important that I keep sports and politics separate,” Fisher said. “I’m a head coach. I’m not a politician, an activist or an expert on societal issues, so I’m going to answer questions about the game.”
Fisher did say he plans to talk with the players, but those conversations will remain confidential.
The players’ made their show of support before running onto the field during pre-game introductions.
The St Louis Police Officers’ Association issued a statement demanding that the players be disciplined and the NFL issue an apology.
The NFL responded with a one-sentence statement from spokesman Brian McCarthy: “We respect and understand the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation.”
After the Rams’ 52-0 rout of Oakland, the players said they meant no disrespect by their show of support.
“We just understand that it’s a big tragedy and we hope something positive comes out of it,” Bailey said, following his five catch 100-yard performance.
“We help build up the people around this community daily with our visiting schools and talking to kids, so coming out and showing that we’re unified with the rest of them, it was key to us,” Cook said.
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