ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis Rams official and a county police chief differed about whether the team had apologized for the actions of five players who raised their hands during pregame festivities in a show of solidarity with Ferguson protesters.
Kevin Demoff, the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Rams, denied in an email to the Associated Press that he’d apologized.
“I expressed regret for any perceived disrespect of law enforcement,” Demoff said. “Our players’ goal was to show support for positive change in our community. I do believe that supporting our players’ First Amendment rights and supporting local law enforcement are not mutually exclusive.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said County Chief Jon Belmar told his staff by email that Demoff had apologized. The email said Demoff “clearly regretted that any members of the Rams organization would act in a way that minimized the outstanding work that police officers carry out each and every day.”
In an email sent to the AP, St. Louis County Police Sgt. Shawn McGuire said Belmar interpreted Demoff’s comments as an apology.
Jared Cook, Kenny Britt, Chris Givens, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin made the “Hands up. Don’t Shoot!” gesture protesters in Ferguson — a suburb of St. Louis — have been using since a grand jury did not indict police officer Darren Wilson over the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, who was black.
Some witnesses said Brown had his hands up before being shot by officer Wilson. Wilson, who is white, 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. He said it was their “choice to exercise their 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, who are all black, but those conversations will remain confidential. The players’ made their show of support before running onto the field during pregame introductions.
The St. Louis Police Officer’s Association issued a statement demanding the players be disciplined and the NFL to 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.
Added Cook: “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.”
By Joe Harris. R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis and Ben Walker in New York contributed to this report