A college football running back is having his actions and intentions dissected after he threw a “hands up don’t shoot” tribute to Michael Brown and the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, on Friday. Jonathan Williams, the running back for the Arkansas Razorbacks, scored a touchdown and turned to the crowd, placing his hands up in the motion that has been adopted by Ferguson protesters. His team was playing against Missouri at the time.
According to the Washington Times, Williams caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Allen, then turned to face the crowd, and made the “hands up” gesture. On social media, many are thanking him for the gesture, calling it a classy tribute when playing against a team for the state where Michael Brown was killed and “hands up don’t shoot” protests are still widespread. Others, however, are angry, and trying to find a way to paint the gesture as racist and divisive.
Upon a second look, Arkansas RB JWIII did a "Hands up, don't shoot" when he scored that touchdown. Good to see that.
— Keith Witty (@Keith_Twitty) November 28, 2014
Nice gesture by Arkansas's RB Williams on his TD celebration #HandsUpDontShoot
— Rodger Horton (@Dat_Boi_Rog) November 28, 2014
Others decried the act, comparing it to Tim Tebow’s post-touchdown prayers, and calling officials hypocritical for allowing it when Tebow was asked not to partake in showy celebrations. (The NFL, which has a rule limiting celebratory acts on the field, does not control college football, nor set the rules for it.)
— Tribulation Now (@TribulationNow) November 29, 2014
(Ironically, Williams’ Twitter and Instagram accounts both bear hashtags and verses honoring his religious beliefs, suggesting that, though his gesture wasn’t one of prayer, his beliefs aren’t that far off from those of the embattled Tebow and his supporters.)
On his own Twitter feed, the running back was attacked for the display.
@Jwillpart2 as long as you don't attack a cop, you will get to see another one.
— Reggie Robinson (@PillarOfAutumn1) November 30, 2014
Williams handled the attack quite casually, though, and in his Twitter mentions, at least, the subject was dropped.
@PillarOfAutumn1 and why would I do that
— Jonathan Williams (@Jwillpart2) November 30, 2014
Was the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture an appropriate way to show tribute to the people of Ferguson, or should Williams have saved his political statements for off the field?