Students' Hand Gestures at Army-Navy Game: Are They References to White Supremacy or Harmless?

Hand gestures of white supremacy or innocuity at this year's Army-Navy football game?

It's the question military officials at two of the most prestigious military academies in the country said they would be looking into hand gestures made by students during an ESPN sideline report Saturday, just before the kickoff of the 120th Army-Navy game appeared to some to be indicative of white supremacy.

Before one of the most-storied traditions in college football played out before the crowd of uniforms on the gridiron of Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field, two West Point cadets and one Naval Academy midshipman could be seen on ESPN making hand gestures during a pre-game sideline report from journalist Rece Davis.

Online clips of the news segment went viral on social media platforms because of the hand gestures association with white nationalists and neo-Nazis.

"U.S. Naval Academy officials have appointed a preliminary inquiry officer to conduct an internal investigation into the hand gestures made during the ESPN College GameDay broadcast prior to yesterday's Army-Navy game," said Navy Commander Alana F. Garas of the United States Naval Academy in a statement to Newsweek Sunday. "Based on findings of the investigation, those involved will be held appropriately accountable. It would be inappropriate to speculate any further while we are conducting this investigation."

Contacted by Newsweek on Sunday, no reply was returned from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

"West Point is looking into it and we do not know the intent of the cadets," Army Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Ophardt told NBC News.

Retired Army Lieutenant General and West Point alum Mark Hertling said on Twitter: "Many on the internet are rightfully upset regarding what appears to be both Cadets and Midshipmen flashing white power signs. I guarantee both U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Naval Academy will investigate and discipline if appropriate. If true, there are always some who find ways to tarnish reputations of organizations."

Others online, however, pointed to the many innocuous uses of the "OK" sign in universal use and the popular games played with versions of the same hand gesture, such as the recently popular "F--king Mint" meme seen on video platforms like TikTok and YouTube, to point out the inaccuracies or ironies of everyday life.

Another game popular among members of the U.S. military is the circle game, wherein, a person convinces another individual to look at a version of the hand gesture below their waist — if the person looks, they receive a punch to the shoulder.

While the "OK" sign is used by Klansmen and white supremacists, the gesture appears to be an elaborate hoax to troll liberals and members of the media. According to the Anti-Defamation League, members of 4chan, an anonymous online message board, started the hoax in 2017 to trigger reaction from liberals and a politically correct culture.

"When it gets flashed...what it's about most of the time is a deliberate attempt to 'trigger liberals' into overreacting to a gesture so widely used that virtually anyone has plausible deniability built into their use of it in the first place," wrote David Neiwert of the Southern Poverty Law Center last year. "The problem, of course, is that there are white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Klansmen who have increasingly begun using the use of the symbol both to signal their presence to the like-minded, as well as to identify potentially sympathetic recruits among young trolling artists flashing it. To them, the configuration means WP, for 'white power.'"

As for the game itself, the Navy triumphed over Army 31-7 breaking a three-game losing streak.

This article has been updated with a statement from a spokesperson for the U.S. Naval Academy.

Army-Navy game and Trump
US President Donald Trump (C) participates in the coin toss coin before the Army v. Navy American Football game in Philadelphia on December 14, 2019. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images/Getty
Students' Hand Gestures at Army-Navy Game: Are They References to White Supremacy or Harmless? | U.S.