In St. Louis, it’s not hard to say you’re sorry — especially when you’re not sorry, and you don’t have to say it.
On Sunday, when five St. Louis Rams players stepped on to the field with arms raised in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo., protesters, the St. Louis Police Officers Association called it a “display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.” The organization released a statement chastising players for ignoring “the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury,” which did not find sufficient evidence to indict police officer Darren Wilson, who shot fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
“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 statement read.
On Monday, amid the brewing controversy, Rams Executive Vice President Kevin Demoff contacted the police department. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told his department in an e-mail that Demoff called to apologize for any player who slighted police.
From the e-mail, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Members of the Department,
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.
Mr. Demoff clearly regretted that any members of the Ram’s organization would act in a way that minimized the outstanding work that police officers and departments carry out each and every day. My impression of the call was that it was heartfelt and I assured him that I would share it with my staff.
Then came the twist.
On Monday night, Demoff denied any such apology to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, saying he merely expressed that he “felt badly that our players’ support of the community was taken as disrespectful to law enforcement.”
“In none of these conversations did I apologize for our players’ actions,” he told the newspaper. “I did say in each conversation that I regretted any offense their officers may have taken. We do believe it is possible to both support our players’ First Amendment rights and support the efforts of local law enforcement as our community begins the process of healing.”
He added: “Chief Belmar’s assertion that our conversation was heartfelt is accurate, and I would characterize our conversation as productive. Our organization wants to find ways to use football to bring our community together.”
The Rams’ coach and NFL brass also supported the protesting players.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said it was the players’ “choice to exercise their free speech” and that no disciplinary action would be taken.
“They will not be disciplined by the club nor will they be disciplined by the National Football League,” he said, adding: “It’s my personal opinion, I firmly believe, 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, so I’m going to answer questions about the game.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said: “We respect and understand the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation.”
Fox News wasn’t persuaded. Conservative talk show hosts Greta Van Susteren and Laura Ingraham spoke out Monday night, saying the silent protest was inappropriate.
“I don’t know about you, but when I watch football, I want to watch football,” Van Susteren said on-the-air. “I don’t want to watch someone’s political agenda shoved down my throat, whether I’m in agreement with it or not.” (Note: Fighter jets are among patriotic displays at football games, where “America the Beautiful” is often sung.)
Van Susteren invited Ingraham to weigh in.
“I didn’t care for it because it’s also not based on any facts,” Ingraham said. “‘Shut up and play’ would be my preferred.”
She added: “But of course they have a right to speak out. But, at this time, at this moment, I don’t know what they think they are going to accomplish.”