Before Sunday’s Cincinnati-Cleveland game, Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a shirt protesting the Ohio deaths of Tamir Rice and John Crawford. The deaths, both of African-Americans at the hands of police officers, have provoked widespread outrage, particularly that of 12-year-old Rice, but a Cleveland police official was in no mood for Hawkins’s statement.

“It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law,” Cleveland Police Patrolman Union President Jeff Follmer said Sunday evening in a statement. “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.”

On Monday, Hawkins offered an emotional response to Follmer’s comments, saying that he is concerned about the kind of world that awaits his 2-year-old son. Hawkins’s great affection for his son is evident in a number of his posts on social media, and the wide receiver was visibly upset while explaining his actions to reporters. From the Associated Press:

“I have a two-year-old little boy, that same two-year-old little boy everyone says was cute when I jokingly threw him out of the house earlier this year,” Hawkins said, pausing to gain his composure. “That little boy is my entire world and the number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me.”
“My wearing of the T-shirt wasn’t a stance against every police officer or every police department,” Hawkins told the AP. “My wearing of the T-shirt was a stance against wrong individuals doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason to innocent people.
“I utterly respect and appreciate every police officer that protects and serves all of us with honesty, integrity and the right way,” he said. “And I don’t think those kind of officers should be offended by what I did. … If I was to run away from what I felt in my soul was the right thing to do, that would make me a coward and I couldn’t live with that.”
Hawkins said his mother raised him to respect law enforcement and he has family and close friends who are police officers. She also taught him to stand up for his beliefs.
“My heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford, knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality,” he said. “I felt like my heart was in the right place, I’m at peace with it and those who disagree with me, this is America. That’s the point. Everyone has a right to their First Amendment rights.”

Prior to Hawkins’s comments, the Browns released this statement: “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.”