I know I’m on shaky ground here what with the fact that these NFL games are televised and the video clips are everywhere. That because I live in the realm of the still image — the indelible still image — and that’s my vantage looking at the Ferguson protest by various Ram players on Sunday before and during their game with Oakland.
Because of that focus, I assume, a few people asked me if I thought the scene above was reminiscent of the famous act by Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico City Olympics. Drawing a comparison across decades argues against laying them side-by-side. Just one difference is that Mexico City occurred in the midst of the civil rights movement whereas the scene from St. Louis, reflective of the strife in Ferguson and divisions around the country largely indicates how badly we’re lacking one. If the scene from Mexico City, however, was sermon-like, deathly quiet and so shocking as to undermine both runner’s future careers, the photo and the screen grabs of the four players assuming the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose are defiant, loud and proud. Moreover, it’s a “black power” symbol, too — if deeply invested with athletic and cultural capital.
It’s one thing to effect a statement in a moment – which is what happened, etched into eternity, in Mexico City. As I understand it though, Sunday’s gesture made return appearances during the game – especially after the Rams scored. As a single statement and a preamble to the contest is one thing, but bathed in light and replayed as the capstone to various winning moments is asking that much more. You could add to the statement/perceived provocation the suggestion that a so-so team drew inspiration from racial politics to destroy a not-very-good-one, the Rams mauling Oakland 52 – 0. …It’s been noted, too, that most of the players who participated in the sideline demonstration also turned in awesome individual performances.
For these reasons, I imagine this photo is as dynamic as the sideline shot above. Over four decades ago, the solemnity and singularity of Carlos and Smith only carried so far. Here, Tre Mason and Kenny Brit find the opportunity to reprise and punctuate “hands up, don’t shoot” on their own timetable having been so pleasing and so good.
(photo 1: L.G. Patterson/AP. caption: Members of the St. Louis Rams raise their arms in a “hands up” gesture to acknowledge the events in Ferguson.photo 2: Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images.)