It’s interesting to think about how this photo works, especially because the Instagram published by Time offers so little context. Most people would assume it’s one more protest this season over violence, staged by professional football players during the national anthem. Far be it from that, however, it’s actually a tribute by Buffalo Bills players, before their game with the Raiders last week, for a fallen Buffalo police officer.
I guess I was a little suspect because I haven’t seen an anthem protest take place in an end zone. It was also slightly unusual to see people in the background milling around. Still, I wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t decided to read through the comment thread. And I mean, read carefully.
As expected, most of the commenters in the thread are butting heads about the NFL, player rights, social justice, Trump, and the national anthem. Buried in the back-and-forth, though, I discovered this:
Once clued to the information, I found plenty of media stories to fill in the details. Even knowing the backstory, however, the racial protests and the officer tribute still get confused. Take this article published by the local radio station, WBEN, for example, reporting on the officer’s funeral as well as the football ceremony. In it, the officer’s partner on the force takes offense with the protests around the league simply based on the parallel.
One of our favorite phrases at Reading the Pictures is, “context is all.” In this case, given how polarizing the racial issue is, the ambiguity is telling. More detail is crucial so as not to automatically assume the players above are protesting police brutality, as opposed to honoring an officer who apparently drowned in the Niagara River during an underwater training mission. Which leads me to TIME’s caption in the post….
My best guess is that someone dashed it off and didn’t think twice about the complete likelihood of the public misinterpreting the photo. Of course, we were owed a better caption. At the same time, though, it makes for an interesting experiment to see how much and how easily we assume.
(Photo: Adrian Knaus/AP/REX/Shutterstock)