NEW: St. Louis County police say a Rams official apologized; the Rams deny
Five players for the St. Louis Rams raise their hands during Sunday's game
A group representing police officers says it's infuriated by the move
Rams coach says players were exercising free-speech rights
A group representing police in St. Louis says it’s infuriated after five St. Louis Rams players raised their hands Sunday in solidarity with protesters upset at Michael Brown’s death.
The St. Louis Police Officers Association says it’s “profoundly disappointed” with those football players who sent a silent but strong message before playing Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt walked onto the field and raised their palms in the air, demonstrating the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture that protesters in Ferguson have been using for months.
Some say that Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, had his arms up when a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot him to death August 9 in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb. Wilson and others say Brown was not trying to surrender and in fact was attacking Wilson.
A grand jury decided last week not to indict Wilson, leading to protests nationwide.
The football players’ action sparked widespread reaction across social media. Some drew parallels between what the Rams players did and the black power salute by two black Olympians from the United States at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
Reaction to the Rams players’ move came as President Barack Obama met Monday with about 50 activists, law enforcement personnel and elected officials as well as members of his Cabinet to discuss what has transpired in Ferguson.
The football players told CNN affiliate KSDK-TV in St. Louis that they came up with the idea just before the game and wanted their action to represent a solidarity with the people of St. Louis and surrounding areas.
“We wanted to do something. … This is our community,” Cook said.
Cook hasn’t had time to go to Ferguson because he’s been busy with the season and also because the area is dangerous and he doesn’t want to get caught up in the violence, he said. But his family members spoke to him about what’s been happening, he said.
“Definitely I will be making my trip to Ferguson,” Cook said.
Bailey stressed that the players’ move was just a way to show support for their community.
“The violence should stop,” he told KSDK. “We just want it to stop.”
“What happened was a tragedy, period,” Austin said, referring to Brown’s killing and the ensuing violence. “There are things out there bigger than football and we notice that.”
Coach: Players were exercising free-speech rights
The police association called for the Rams and the NFL to apologize and discipline the players involved.
“We respect and understand the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
He said that the NFL had nothing further to add and that the players would not be disciplined.
Rams Coach Jeff Fisher also told reporters that the players would not be disciplined.
“They are exercising their right to free speech,” he said.
Fisher said he planned to talk to the five players, but hasn’t done so yet.
“Those conversations will most likely remain confidential,” he said.
He declined to answer questions about his own feelings about the move, saying he’d prefer to talk to reporters about his team’s 52-0 win against the Oakland Raiders Sunday.
“It’s my personal opinion, and I firmly believe, that it’s important that I keep sports and politics separate. I’m a head coach. I’m not a politician, an activist or an expert on societal issues,” he said. “So I’m going to answer questions about the game.”
Police leaders meet with team officials
The players “chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week,” the police association said in a statement.
“The gesture has become synonymous with assertions that Michael Brown was innocent of any wrongdoing and attempting to surrender peacefully when Wilson, according to some now-discredited witnesses, gunned him down in cold blood,” the police association wrote.
The statement quoted the association’s business manager, Jeff Roorda, as saying that “it is unthinkable that homegrown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven over and over again.”
“I’d remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertisers’ products. It’s cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do.”
Leaders from the St. Louis Police Officers Association and the St. Louis County Police association met with Rams officials Monday, the police groups said in a statement.
The talks were “productive but very preliminary,” police said. They are expected to continue later in the week.
“We made some progress today and we had a healthy interaction with the Rams,” Roorda said in a statement after the meeting. “We feel strongly that they better understand our perspective and the perspective of the law-abiding citizens that support law enforcement.”
Austin responded to the police feeling that the players’ actions suggested they were taking a side.
That wasn’t their intention, he said. “We just want to let the community know that we support them.”
Apology vs. no apology
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar sent an e-mail to his staff saying the Rams’ chief operating officer called Monday to apologize.
“I received a very nice call this morning from Mr. Kevin Demoff of the St. Louis Rams who wanted to take the opportunity to apologize to our department on behalf of the Rams for the “Hands Up” gesture that some players took the field with yesterday,” Belmar wrote in the e-mail, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
But the Rams characterized the conversation differently.
“We did not apologize,” Rams spokesman Artis Twyman told CNN.
The team issued a statement saying the organization had “positive discussions” Monday with Belmar and other police officials “during which we expressed our respect for their concerns surrounding yesterday’s game.”
CNN’s Holly Yan, Catherine E. Shoichet, Ryan Sloane, Wayne Sterling and Dave Alsup contributed to this story.