'Disgusting': Possible Flashing of White Power Hand Sign at Army-Navy Game Prompts Uproar

Many on social media expressed outraged after cadets attending Army-Navy football game on Saturday flashed hand signals that have sometimes been associated with white nationalist movements as they appeared on a sideline report during an ESPN broadcast.

Videos of the incident have circulated on social media, as cadets from West Point and midshipmen from the Naval Academy appeared to flash the "OK" symbol covertly to the camera as ESPN journalist Rece Davis presented a report ahead of the game.

Although the hand gesture is generally viewed as a harmless sign of approval or agreement around the world, in recent years it has been hijacked by white nationalist and white power groups, leading the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, to list it as a potentially extremist gesture in September.

The ADL also noted, however, that usage of the hand symbol "in most contexts is entirely innocuous and harmless." It adds that "particular care must be taken not to jump to conclusions about the intent behind someone who has used the gesture."

West Point and Annapolis investigating apparent white power hand signs during Army-Navy game https://t.co/YqLmLNqbL9 pic.twitter.com/G040Xj9HVI

— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) December 15, 2019

But some on social media quickly called out the usage by the young men at the Army-Navy game as racist.

"Lizzo's ass got more coverage and commentary than the white power hand signs at the Army-Navy game," activist Charles Preston tweeted. He was referencing recent coverage of the singer's dance in the stands at a Los Angeles Lakers game, during which her underwear was seen inadvertently.

Lizzo's ass got more coverage and commentary than the white power hand signs at the Army-Navy game.

— Charles Preston (@_CharlesPreston) December 15, 2019

"Are you going to discipline the cadets & midshipmen who flashed white power signs at the Army Navy game?" author and journalist David Cay Johnston wrote on Twitter, tagging West Point and the Naval Academy. "Note: video shows they timed their racist hand signals to make sure they'd appear on the Jumbotron. Expulsion?" he asked.

"#Racists have never known for being very smart. It's obvious these knuckleheads are flashing the #WhitePower sign. More than likely they will be expelled," Twitter user Foxman Music posted.

Superintendents of @WestPoint_USMA and @navalacademy,

Are you going to discipline the cadets & midshipmen who flashed white power signs at the Army Navy game?

Note: video shows they timed their racist hand signals to make sure they’d appear on the Jumbotron.

Expulsion?

— David Cay Johnston (@DavidCayJ) December 15, 2019

"Seeing the White power hand sign flashed by Cadets & Midshipmen at the Army-Navy game was disgusting," Twitter user George Manning wrote.

I always knew they were there, hidden under their rocks.

What surprised me was that there were so many of them.

Seeing the White power hand sign flashed by Cadets & Midshipmen at the Army-Navy game was disgusting. https://t.co/GzXnUfzOxv

— George Manning (@george_10548) December 15, 2019

Jamil Smith, a senior writer for Rolling Stone, tweeted that "clips of the signals went viral because of their well-known and documented association with 'white power.'"

West Point is investigating a hand gesture made by several cadets and midshipmen during an ESPN pre-game broadcast at the Army-Navy game Saturday. Clips of the signals went viral because of their well-known and documented association with “white power.” https://t.co/GM0QipAbbq

— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) December 15, 2019

The Naval Academy and West Point both told The Wall Street Journal that they were investigating the hand gestures.

"We're looking into it," Lieutenant Colonel Chris Ophardt, a spokesperson for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, told the newspaper. "I don't know what their intention is."

Commander Alana Garas, a spokesperson for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland made a similar statement. "We are aware and will be looking into it," she told The Journal.

Garas later told Newsweek via email that "U.S. Naval Academy officials have appointed a preliminary inquiry officer to conduct an internal investigation into the hand gestures" made during the broadcast. "Based on findings of the investigation, those involved will be held appropriately accountable," she said. "It would be inappropriate to speculate any further while we are conducting this investigation."

Newsweek has also reached out to West Point and ESPN for additional comment.

According to ADL, the common "OK" hand gesture could have several different meanings, besides its association with extremist white power movements. "One of these is the so-called 'Circle Game,' in which people attempt to trick each other into looking at an okay-like hand gesture made somewhere below the waist," the organization's website explained. Notably, in the clip shared online, the hand gestures by the cadets and midshipmen were made near or below their waists.

The leaders of the U.S. Coast Guard reprimanded an officer last year for using a similar hand symbol, according to the Associated Press. The military has also recently faced instances of racism within its ranks.

In November, Vice reported that three active-duty military soldiers had made racist posts on an online neo-Nazi message board. Newsweek then revealed the identity of one of those posters as U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Liam J. Collins. The Marine Corps said at the time that it intended to "fully investigate this allegation. If substantiated, the subject Marine will be held fully accountable."

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), with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper (C L) and Acting United States Secretary Thomas Modly (C R) joins Naval Academy cadets during the the Army v. Navy American Football game in Philadelphia on December 14, 2019. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP) ) ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images/Getty