Knowing Where to Draw the Line

St. Louis Rams gesture

Athletes voicing their opinions in public has always been a highly debated topic. Some believe that athletes should keep their political and societal views to themselves while others believe they have the right to freely express their thoughts. Another example of this issue occurred last Sunday afternoon when five St. Louis Rams players made a “hands up” gesture to support the non violence protests taking place around the country in wake of the Ferguson Missouri controversy. According to an ESPN article, Jared Cook, one of the players involved, stated, “It’s a message worldwide that for young adults that you can protest and you can do things peacefully without getting out of line.” The players wanted to make it clear that they did not support the violence that took place during the riots in Ferguson.

The public response to this statement by the Rams players was very mixed. Through social media, some Rams fans threatened to stop supporting the team and even made threats to hurt the players involved. These people obviously didn’t agree with the appropriateness of the gesture and were willing to take extreme measures. The St. Louis Police Department also released a statement which asked the players to make a public apology and asked the NFL to discipline the players. On the other hand, in a CNN article, the Ethical Society of Police of St. Louis publicly commended the players for their support and believe they should not be disciplined for their actions. The difference in opinions on the gesture comes from a difference in views on the subject at hand. The fans and the police department feel differently about the events that took place in Ferguson than the African American organization that supported the cause. The people that disagree with the cause don’t want the players expressing their views, while the people that agree with the cause think it is good awareness. 

Additional information on St.Louis Rams gesture

This addresses the question brought up in Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier’s article “Where Are the Jocks for Justice?” They discussed whether athletes should have the right to voice their own opinions about current events and political issues. It has been shown in the past that athletes who speak out on political topics are usually criticized and harmed financially. Athletes are looked up to by a diverse group of people as role models so their opinions could negatively affect their image. Athletes in the current day have much more on the line because they are making much more money than the average citizen. This has resulted in athletes being much more cautious when in front of the media. So should athletes be allowed to use their popularity to express views if they are willing to accept the consequences? I do believe that athletes have the right to make any statements they seem necessary because they have earned their followers interest for a reason. However, the athletes must understand the diverse beliefs of their fans and the repercussions that may follow.

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7 thoughts on “Knowing Where to Draw the Line

  1. As some of the other commenters have stated, everyone should have the right to voice their own opinion on any subject matter. It is an inherent part of our constitution, something that every American has a right to. While this is a noble outlook, the fact of the matter is that these players are Athletes. They are paid, worshipped, and idolized because of their athletic abilities. Anything done in the midst of their profession that is not in line with athletics should be penalized. While they can use their fame to promote certain agendas, I think it is only right and just when it happens out of season or out of the office. It is just not appropriate.

    If Richard Sherman gets fined for speaking against the NFL on grounds of the fact that his sponsorship with Beats conflicts with the NFL agreement with Bose and he is upset, then the St. Louis Rams should be fined for speaking out on their beliefs. There should be NO grey area, but never the less there is because the issue of race(both sides) will forever torment society – especially sport.

    None the less, insightful post that I hope people resonate with because it is an important topic.

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  2. I agree with the commenter above who said that my appreciation for the St. Louis Ram’s protest was increased as a result of reading your post. The actions taken by the athletes were those of people with high exposure, and their job gives them this liberty. There is no reason why they should have to hold their tongue about it and as Mill would say, the only consequences they should have to face should be from the public. Not the league. If they are given the ability to speak out they should be able to, and if people turn away from them that is the players’ faults and the players’ problems. Players should certainly be fined for using racial, ethnic, or other slurs in interviews, but this was not insensitive in any way and even if you don’t agree with what they are saying, this is a social movement that they have the full right to be a part of.

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  3. I think it is important that athletes at a higher level express there beliefs and opinions on important things in our society. I think it was important that the St. Louis players stepped up and voiced their opinions through their actions. They are standing up for what they believe in and if you don’t believe in that than don’t follow them. I never understood the point of people giving death threats and saying they should all go to hell. It is wasted effort that could be used voicing there own opinion instead of bringing someone else’s down. With every courageous event comes circumstances and these players knew that, but they wanted to get up in front of a stage that they knew people would pay attention and voice their opinion.

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  4. After reading this, I have a greater appreciation for how the St. Louis Rams responded to the police department and said they would not make the players involved apologize for their showing. The fans that responded harshly to their gesture need to understand that they players are people too. They have opinions on issues, and if they want to speak their mind, they should be able to, just as they can on Twitter when they are unhappy with something that the team does. Too often we expect athletes to be quiet on issues like this, but it is unreasonable to expect grown men to always bite their tongues. While I do think the timing of the gesture was inappropriate (right before the beginning of the game), it definitely got people talking more about the issue, which was likely one of their objectives. I’m sure they were aware that they would receive some backlash, but sometimes it is worth it to let people know that you will not shy away from speaking out because of your place in the public as an athlete.

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  5. Interesting article. I find the monitoring of athletes’ political comments to be very relevant considering the rise of social media. Even on SportsCenter, the anchors are always posting tweets from players (sometimes directed at rivals in their sport, others related to current societal issues). While I strongly feel athletes should have the right to voice their opinions the same as any normal American, I also believe their publicity should be limited. By this, I mean that media should not be seeking or encouraging athletes to publicize any political or social views. If a player wants to publish views on Twitter or some other form of social media, that should be monitored by the organization in which they play for. In regards to the Rams’ situation, I found their protest to be a peaceful showing that had no effect on the game. The players did not promote violence, and I felt they were well within their rights.

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  6. I don’t think the players should be fined, but it does spark an interesting conversation. Players are fined all the time in the NFL for commenting on various things, so it leaves a bit of a grey area where the line should be drawn in terms of players expressing their political views. Although they have the right to free speech, the players need to realize that they are representing their organization when they express themselves. By making the gesture before the game, the players are backing the Rams organization into a corner.

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  7. Like all other American citizens professional athletes have the right to express their views through freedom of speech. Of course their high profile standing causes many more people to weigh in on their views and how they should be expressed than on the average citizen’s views. However I don’t think this should deter athletes from being politically active if they are informed and educated on what they are commenting on. The fact that some people want to reprimand the St. Louis Rams players for their support of non-violence is absurd. Their actions did not disrupt the game, which is their job, or put anyone in harm’s way except to spark debate. I agree that athletes should express their views but no what that may cost them.

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