The Cleveland Browns defended their players' right to protest after being criticized for Andrew Hawkins wearing a "Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford" shirt on Sunday, Cleveland's NewsChannel 5 reports.
Hawkins wore the shirt when he took the field on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Rice and Crawford were both killed by police in recent months. The 12-year-old Rice was shot last month while holding a BB gun, and Crawford was shot at a Wal-Mart in August while holding an air gun.
Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association president Jeff Folmer said Sunday that the team should apologize to the police for Hawkins' protest.
"It's pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law. They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland police protect and serve the browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology."
While they did say they respect the police, the Browns said they support Hawkins' freedom to express himself on the field.
"We have great respect for the Cleveland Police Department and the work that they do to protect and serve our city. We also respect our players' rights to project their support and bring awareness to issues that are important to them if done so in a responsible manner."
Several St. Louis Rams players were criticized by police for making a "hands up, don't shoot" gesture following a grand jury's decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose wore an "I Can't Breathe" shirt in pregame warmups earlier this month after no indictment was made in the death of Eric Garner, who was put in a chokehold. Many teams have followed Rose's lead and wore the shirts, including LeBron James and several Cleveland Cavaliers and Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
- Paul Palladino