It’s been more than a week since five players on the St. Louis Rams raised their palms in the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture that protesters have used following the grand jury decision against indicting the police officer who shot unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August, and more professional athletes have joined in on taking a stand on recent events involving police aggression against African-Americans.
NBA superstar Derrick Rose wore an "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt in pregame warm-ups Saturday night, and Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush and Cleveland Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi donned shirts Sunday bearing the phrase used by Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after an NYPD officer applied an apparent choke hold while trying to arrest Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes.
LeBron James, arguably the most prominent active athlete in basketball and perhaps in all of American sports, praised Rose’s decision to wear the shirt and said he wants one of his own. The Cavaliers will face the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center Monday night against a backdrop of more protests and the royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. James said “it’s possible” he would wear an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt during warm-ups.
James addressed the New York protests of Garner’s death during the Cavs’ Thursday morning shoot-around before a matchup with the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
"This is our country, the land of the free, and we keep having these incidents happen, innocent victims or whatever the case may be,” James told reporters.
"Our families are losing loved ones. I'm not pointing the blame at anybody that's making it happen. In society, we've come a long way, but it just goes to show how much further we still have to go.
“Violence is not the answer and retaliation isn't the solution. As a society, we just have to do better. I pray for the families of the lost ones.”
James has not been shy about answering questions about social issues, or addressing them on his own. In 2012, James and other athletes posed in a photo wearing hooded sweatshirts, with “R.I.P. Trayvon Martin” written on his shoes. He also said there's "no room for Donald Sterling in our league" after the then-owner of the Los Angeles Clippers made racially insensitive comments about African-Americans.
Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire expressed support for the protests.
“I’m pretty upset that I’m not protesting right now with the rest of the guys out there in New York,” Stoudemire said. “I think it's something that's -- it's very alarming in our country as far as that's concerned. We have to be more conscientious of what the enforcement's job is, and that's to protect and serve. Those two words are very strong when you think about that.”
“It doesn’t matter if you are an athlete or not,’’ he added. “If it hits home for you, then you have the right to speak on it. That’s why we have freedom of speech.”
Some athletes have even showed their support for the protest during games. Washington Redskins defensive lineman Chris Baker used the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture during the third quarter in a game against the Rams. Baker posted a message on Twitter Sunday with “hands up, don’t shoot” and referenced Brown and Garner.
Some athletes’ support of the protests has been condemned by pundits. ESPN football analyst and former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka described the Rams gesture as a “shame,” adding he was “embarrassed” for the players.
"It's a shame this thing has come to this," Ditka said in his weekly feature column in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The shame of it is, I'm not sure they care about Michael Brown or anything else. This was a reason to protest and to go out and loot. Is this the way to celebrate the memory of Michael Brown? Is this an excuse to be lawless? Somebody has to tell me that. I don't understand it. I understand what the Rams' take on this was. I'm embarrassed for the players more than anything. They want to take a political stand on this? Well, there are a lot of other things that have happened in our society that people have not stood up and disagreed about.”