The sports world is alternately inspired and enraged by five members of the NFL's St. Louis Rams. Their grand transgressive action was walking out onto their home field before the start of their Sunday, November 30th game against the Oakland Raiders, and raising their arms in the "hands up don't shoot" pose that has become the international symbol of protests against the police shooting of unarmed Ferguson, Missouri, resident Michael Brown. Debates have raged about whether the playing field is an "appropriate" place for politics or if any of the Rams would in some way be sanctioned by the league.

What the Rams players did is both admirable and worth defending. They brought protest to the field of play and imposed the rallying cry that black lives matter onto a space reserved for escape. By doing so, they incurred the wrath of the St. Louis Police Officers Association. They also inspired the media to take a serious dive into the history of athlete activists, particularly that frozen moment in time when bronze and gold medalists John Carlos and Tommie Smith climbed the medal stand in 1968 and raised their fists in Mexico City. 

But when it comes to athletes expressing their solidarity with Ferguson and the family of Michael Brown, the Rams players would do well to give a tip of their helmets to Knox University basketball player Ariyana Smith. Knox is a small college in Galesburg, Illinois. On Saturday, November 29th, before a game against Fontbonne in Clayton, Missouri, Ms. Smith made the "hands up don't shoot" gesture during the national anthem before walking toward the American flag. She then went prone on the floor for four and a half minutes, preventing the game from getting under way. Why four and a half minutes? Because Michael Brown lay in the street for four and a half hours after being killed. According to witnesses, Ariyana was being told to move repeatedly during the four and a half minutes, but refused until the entire period of time was completed. 

She then left the building raising her fist in the air with a force that would make Carlos and Smith proud. She later said, ""I could not go into that gymnasium and pretend that everything was okay. I could not, in good conscience,  play that game...I knew it was going to shock people. I knew they were going to be upset, but I couldn't let that stop me. I could not go to the city of St. Louis and not acknowledge the sacrifice the protesters were making with their bodies. People are being gassed. To me, that demonstration was absolutely respectful."

But for her brave act of resistance, Ariyana Smith was suspended from the team. The school quickly changed its tune, issuing a statement that Ariyana had been reinstated.  In a statement on the Knox College website, the administration said, "Upon review of the situation and discussion with the team, and in recognition of the larger national context, the decision was made to reverse the suspension, and the player has been invited to resume all basketball activities." In other words, her team according to reports had total solidarity with her actions and the small liberal arts school was terrified of the backlash.

I spoke with John Carlos the day after the St. Louis Rams made their silent gesture. He said, "Asking them to just 'shut up and play' is like asking a human being to be paint on the wall. They have the right to say what they feel in their heart. A lot more athletes need to step up and speak up as well. These atrocities have been going on and we are saying enough is enough. I remember saying in 1968, you think I'm bad, just wait until this new generation comes out. I feel like that new generation is here at last." That new generation certainly is here, embodied heroically in the form of Ariyana Smith.

 

Image credit: AP; AP/LG Patterson

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Comments

The whole problem with what the Rams did was that the narrative is completely false! There is no proof that he ever held his hands up to surrender, but blood evidence does show that he was moving toward the Officer Wilson. Witnesses who have said they saw Mr. Brown's hands up have recanted such statements. The ironic thing with your publication is that you highlight all these articles about protesting and activism. Yet, when people point out that you are propagating false narratives, you censor their words. As you did to my comment on your Facebook page! Censorship is a pretty reactive approach to opposing views. Maybe the better approach is to expand the dialog and engage in a debate, rather than hide behind the delete button on your computer desk!
And one of the Ram's players, Kenny Britt was arrested in New Jersey on three counts (including a felony) following an alleged car chase with police. The charges were later reduced. On June 7, Britt pled guilty to careless driving and was fined. On June 8, 2012, Britt was arrested in Hoboken, NJ, charged with resisting arrest. On January 13, 2013, Britt's close personal friend was involved in a stabbing and Britt reportedly drove him to the Jersey City Medical Center. When police attempted to ask Britt about the incident, he was allegedly not willing to cooperate. The incident marks the ninth time Britt was involved with police since he joined the NFL. In May 2014, a sex video briefly appeared on Britt's Instagram. The Rams announced they were looking into the incident.
"Progressives...": This comment was approved because it doesn't contain direct attacks, slurs, racist implications, or other abusive techniques. If your Facebook comment was deleted it probably contained one or more of those things. We don't publish everything that gets sent our way, whether it's a submission, a letter, a comment, or a tweet. - JB, web editor
I am a new subscriber of the venerable Progressive. I have read it , on and off, for years. I wonder if The Progressive has spent time on the DOJ's report on the interactions of Officer Wilson and Michael Brown on that fateful day last summer? One would hope that, in the interest of informing readers and in the interest of fairness, an airing of the findings of the DOJ investigation would get ample space in The Progressive. It is not in the best interest of the furtherance of race relations, police/minority relations or just plain good journalism to avoid an honest reporting of the heretofore fictionalized account of that day.

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The report's theme is “Locked Out,” for the ongoing marginalization of Blacks and Latinos.

The successor government has already made huge mistakes.

The biggest problem we have as a society, Nader says, is that “people don’t show up.”

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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