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Rams players should not be disciplined

The NFL was correct in deciding against disciplining the Rams players who showed support for the protests in Ferguson.

I GUESS life would be less complicated if we just left sports to be about the games.

I get it that a lot of people who watched Sunday's NFL game between the St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders were angered that Rams players Jared Cook, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens and Tavon Austin made a visual statement about a polarizing social issue.

During the introduction of the St. Louis offense, the five players stopped near the tunnel entrance and raised their arms in the universal sign of "I surrender."

It was a statement about the recent grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of teenager Michael Brown.

Wilson is white. Brown was African-American, like the five players. Some witnesses to the shooting said Brown had his hands up and was surrendering when Wilson fatally shot him.

The grand jury decision not to indict Wilson set off a second series of protests - several that turned violent - and has reopened a national debate about police and the value they place on the lives of African-Americans.

Still, while I understand the position of those who say this debate does not belong on a football field, I applaud the NFL for supporting our Constitution by deciding to not fine or discipline the Rams players for exercising their First Amendment rights.

In our society, sports, particularly televised sports, have become a powerful platform for addressing social issues.

The NFL has been using current and former players in a series of visible public service announcements during broadcasts urging an end to domestic violence.

FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, launched its "Say No to Racism" campaign in 2006 and prominently promotes it with large banners during the World Cup and virtually all sanctioned matches.

Certainly, there are cases when the actions or words of players can damage the NFL brand and must be addressed by the league.

I don't see that in this case - others might.

The St. Louis Police Officers Association called for the NFL to discipline the five players and issue a "very public apology."

The NFL responded with a statement saying, "We respect and understand the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation."

The five Rams players were not raucous or overly demonstrative. They did not interrupt the play on the field.

They did not demean the Ferguson or St. Louis police forces. They did not incite any anti-police sentiment.

Cook, Britt, Bailey, Givens and Austin simply made a nonviolent gesture to show their support for those who have decided to exercise their rights as American citizens and address this issue through nonviolent demonstration nationwide.

Britt said that the display was not about taking sides, but that they "wanted to show that we are organized for a great cause and something positive comes out of it.

"That's what we hope we can make happened. That's our community. We wanted to let the community know we support the community."

Without question, some will think the St. Louis players absolutely took a side against the police, and that's OK.

As long as they convey their message in the same legal and nonviolent means that the players did, they have the right to express their opinions.

SLPOA business manager Jeff Roorda was correct when he said, "Cops have First Amendment rights, too, and we plan to exercise ours."

If the police and their supporters feel that strongly, they should.

If they want to boycott the players, the Rams organization, the NFL and its advertising partners, that is a legitimate way to make their displeasure known.

Some people might not like it and feel it had no place in a NFL game, but the five Rams players acted in a manner that was respectful of and at the core of our First Amendment rights as citizens of the United States of America.