LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — A week after their “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” show of solidarity, several St. Louis Rams players made another societal statement Sunday with the message: “I Can’t Breathe.”
The slogan refers to Eric Garner, who died after a New York police officer placed him in a chokehold during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes. A grand jury decided last week that it would not indict the officer. A video of the arrest showed Garner gasping, “I can’t breathe.”
Guard Davin Joseph wrote the words on the cleats he wore during pregame warmups before the Rams beat the Washington Redskins 24-0. Tight end Jared Cook had it written on his wrist tape. Receiver Kenny Britt had several names — including Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin — written on his blue and gold cleats. The names were of black men or teens whose deaths led to protests.
“I feel like we should support what we feel is right,” said Joseph, who intended to wear the cleats during the game but had to change because of the condition of the slick turf at the Redskins’ stadium. “We should always have an opinion of sticking up for people who don’t have a voice.”
Joseph Tweeted an image of his shoes before the game with the message: “R.I.P. Eric Garner.”
Players at other NFL games expressed similar sentiments. Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush had “I Can’t Breathe” written in black across his blue warmup shirt. Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi wrote the message on the back of the shirt he wore before a game in Cleveland.
“Honestly, I’ve always been the quiet kid. I’ve always been the one who’s reserved, to kind of sit back and not really get into politics and things like that,” said Bush, whose mother has been a police officer for about 20 years. “But I don’t know why I just felt some kind of … I guess the situation just touched me.
“It’s kind of resonated with me. Not because I’ve been through a similar situation or because I’ve seen anybody go through it. I just really felt terrible about what was going on these past couple of weeks.”
Lions coach Jim Caldwell supported Bush’s action.
“I grew up in the ’60s, where everybody was socially conscious,” Caldwell said. “I believe in it. I’d be a hypocrite if I stood up here and told you any differently, because more than likely, some of those protests that Dr. (Martin Luther) King and some of the others that took a part in non-violent protests, is the reason why I’m standing here in front of you today.”
Bademosi said there were players and coaches on his team who weren’t even aware what “I Can’t Breathe” meant. He called the Garner case “a ridiculous situation.”
“It’s not an us-against-them thing,” Bademosi said. “It’s about us standing in solidarity with those of us who know what’s going on.”
On Saturday night, Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose wore the message on his T-shirt during warmups before an NBA game.
The decision not to indict the officer came after another grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson over the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Last week, before a Rams home game, five St. Louis players — including Cook and Britt — took the field making the “Hands up. Don’t Shoot!” gesture associated with Brown. The St. Louis Police Officers Association expressed outrage and called for the NFL to discipline the players; the league declined.
Although Garner’s death occurred far from St. Louis, Joseph felt the need to make his feelings known.
“In that case, it’s another incident where it’s a sad case and it’s sad to see,” Joseph said. “Every life in this world is worth something, and when you lose one, it hurts, no matter who it is. We have to stand for the value of life.”
Added Cook: “It’s something that’s important to a lot of people.”
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