The combined enrollment of the U.S. Naval and Army academies is nearly 9,000, but after the annual football rivalry game between the two rivals in Philadelphia Saturday, media are obsessed with three of them for supposedly making racist hand gestures at the game.
Slate reports that two West Point cadets and one Naval Academy midshipmen made the A-OK hand gestures during a pregame report by ESPN's Reece Davis. Twitter lit up with posts claiming the hand signs were undeniably white power salutes.
Slate's Daniel Politi reported military officials "have launched an investigation after some West Point cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen were seen on television flashing a hand sign that is often associated with 'white power.' ... Specifically, two West Point cadets and one Naval Academy midshipman were seen flashing the sign during the pregame celebrations that were aired by ESPN."
West Point spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Ophardt said, "We're looking into it. I don't know what their intention is.”
Slate and The New York Times cited the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center as a so-called legitimate source of hate groups and for identifying the hand signal as one of white power. Politi wrote:
"The hand sign in question has traditionally been used to indicate 'OK' but has become a white supremacist symbol. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the gesture as 'the thumb and forefinger joined together in a circle, the remaining three fingers splayed out behind.' The Anti-Defamation League has said that the meaning of the previously innocuous gesture began changing around 2017, when the sign began to be used to indicate white power. Earlier this year, the ADL added the gesture to its online database of hate symbols."
Johnny Diaz of The New York Times also recognized the much-maligned Southern Poverty Law Center as an authoritative source.
Importantly, USA Today's Mike Brehm wrote that the gesture "is also used in the so-called Circle Game. In it, a person holds an upside-down OK sign below his or her waist. If someone notices, the person making the symbol is able to punch the person who notices it in the shoulder."
Brehm also reported the Anti-Defamation League recently added the OK symbol "as a gesture of hate."
During ESPN's pregame show, Reece Davis did a report from the stands, surrounded by cadets, and one of them can be seen flashing the sign. Several individuals posted tweets identifying this as a sure sign of racism, which multiple media posted in their news reports:
Slate's story reported military officials "have launched an investigation after some West Point cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen were seen on television flashing a hand sign that is often associated with 'white power.' ... Specifically, two West Point cadets and one Naval Academy midshipman were seen flashing the sign during the pregame celebrations that were aired by ESPN.
West Point spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Ophardt said "We're looking into it. I don't know what their intention is.”
"We are aware and will be looking into it,'' Commander Alana Garas, a spokesperson for the U.S. Naval Academy, said.
ESPN, The Associated Press, NBC and others were cautious in reporting that racist intentions were possible.
President Trump's presence at the Army-Navy game was lightly reported. He and Defense Secretary Mark Esper appeared in the Army locker room and announced that he'd signed an executive order giving service academy students a waiver to play professional sports before serving their country in the military.
Prior to the game, Army coach Jeff Monken said, "It's just an incredible rivalry, unlike any rivalry in sports. To be a competitor in this game, is just an honor and a privilege, and to represent so much more than ourselves personally, the teams we're on, to wear the colors of the men and women that serve is incredible. ... they're brothers in arms with us."
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said: "It's America's game ... it's a national game ... it's our country's game ... ."
The heroic sacrifices made by the military and the significance of the annual Army-Navy game were AWOL from media reports obsessed with the "possible" misbehavior by potentially as few as three cadets.