Blue smoke rose on the outside of the tunnel, and five star offensive players for the St. Louis Rams emerged with their hands pointed toward the sky in a gesture protestors would often accompany with the words, “Hands up, don’t shoot!”

Just 12 miles away from the stadium, protests raged on in Ferguson, Mo. over the recent shooting of Michael Brown. In the sports world, Jared Cook, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens, and Kenny Britt found a way to send an important message in a fashion that did not break any NFL rules.

The gestures drew a lot of controversy from NFL legends such as Mike Ditka, the St. Louis Police Department, who demanded an apology. Though controversial, the gestures provided a refreshingly peaceful statement in the recent protests resulting from the Ferguson shooting and others like it. The NFL did not punish any of the Rams players who were involved. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher refused to discipline them as he pointed to their right to freedom of speech.

Though the St. Louis Police Department thought that the players, “chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week,” and demanded an apology, Rams tight-end Jared Cook was surprised because, like so many people don’t understand, the current protests are not just about Michael Brown. They are resulting from a boiling point of a history of racial oppression, profiling, and many cases of police brutality.

The St. Louis Rams players who were a part of this demonstration made a powerful statement that had echoes of the black power salute in the 1968 Berlin Olympics. Professional sports are one of the most influential mediums in the United States, and this demonstration serves a powerful way to illustrate their frustrations and get their message out in a peaceful manner.

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