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Monday, December 15, 2014
Free speech in the NFL, ctd.
After this happened two weeks ago (and may or may nor have been resolved by what may or may not have been an apology from the Rams), this happened in Cleveland yesterday: Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a t-shirt during pre-game intros calling for "Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford," both of whom were recently shot to death by Cleveland police officers. This follows on the heels of numerous NBA players, including some Cleveland Cavs, wearing "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts during pre-game warm-ups.
The head of the Police Patrolmen Union then offered this:
It's pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law. They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology.
If possible, this one is even more tone-deaf than the statement from the St. Louis police union spokesman. Note the familiar beats of 1) arrogant paternalism ("Stick to football and don't speak out on matters of public interest the way ordinary citizens can") and 2) mild threat ("We protect you, but if you don't appreciate us, maybe we won't anymore").
This is not going away anytime soon.
Update: The Browns responded in a far more unequivocal and unambiguous way: "We have great respect for the Cleveland Police Department and the work that they do to protect and serve our city. We also respect our players' rights to project their support and bring awareness to issues that are important to them if done so in a responsible manner."
That last qualifier is always the kicker of course; someone who wanted to could say that what the players did is not responsible. They would be wrong, of course, but there you go. I guess the next move is whether the department tries to pull out of providing game-day security (my guess: No, because the rank-and-file officers want the pay that comes with it).
Further Update: Will Leitch of Sports on Earth explains why this sort of athlete activism is a good thing (he was writing about the "I Can't Breathe" shirts in the NBA rather than the NFL examples, but the point is the same).