Hand gestures flashed by West Point cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen during the televised Army-Navy football game were not racist signals, military investigations have concluded.
The investigations came after some on social media claimed the students were making “white power” gestures during the game telecast Saturday.
— Fella (@BruthaManTho) December 14, 2019
As an American,
As a Navy Dad,
As a decent human being…
…you hate to see racist West Point cadets emboldened by the presence of the Racist-inChief at an #ArmyNavyGame to throw up the “White Power” sign on national TV.
— BrooklynDad_Defiant! (@mmpadellan) December 14, 2019
Many observers, however, said the students were playing the “circle game,” in which someone flashes an upside-down OK sign below the waist and punches anyone who looks at it.
It’s the circle game very popular at the service academies…we used to do it all the time in the 80’s and it has nothing to do with white power.
— Darth Patrick (@PATRICKMCOLE1) December 14, 2019
Have people really never heard of the circle game or are they just pretending? We were religious about it when I was a kid. Breaking the rules of circle game was like breaking the rules of shotgun. You just didn’t do it. All must live by the code.
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) December 16, 2019
People really had to be in denial to keep asserting the circle game wasn’t a legit thing. https://t.co/UbG7DgWvsq
— Mark Hemingway (@Heminator) December 16, 2019
That was confirmed by both services’ investigations.
A Navy probe of the event found that the students were participating in a “sophomoric game” on Saturday and had no racist intent, as many observers noted Saturday.
An Army statement Friday also rejected any racist overtones, saying the hand gestures were “not associated with ideologies or movements that are contrary to the Army values.”
The Navy said officials are, however, disappointed in the immature behavior of the students and “their actions will be appropriately addressed.”
There were no details about their exact punishment, but a Navy report on the investigation said the two midshipmen should face “administrative action” for “failure to use good judgment.”
The Navy said that reviews of the footage, more than two dozen interviews and background checks by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the FBI determined that the two freshmen midshipmen were indeed participating in the “circle game” with West Point cadets.
The investigation added that the two Naval Academy students “exhibited genuine shock” and said they were not aware of the racist connotation of the hand gestures. It said interviews with friends, roommates and other commanders also found no links to the white power movement.
Navy Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, said sailors are expected to conduct themselves with integrity and character at all times.
“To be clear, the Navy does not tolerate racism in any form,” Gilday said. “And while the investigation determined there was no racist intent behind these actions, our behavior must be professional at all times and not give cause for others to question our core values of honor, courage and commitment.”
The Navy investigation also made a number of recommendations to better coordinate and screen midshipmen who might be in high-visibility areas for major events such as the game day. And it said there should be more training for the students on how they should conduct themselves.
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point reached similar conclusions. Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, West Point superintendent, expressed disappointment in the cadets’ immature behavior. The cadets involved also will receive “appropriate administrative” or disciplinary actions, West Point said. No details were provided.
“The American people trust our Soldiers to do the right things the right way,” said Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army. “We must be mindful of behavior which brings that trust into question and ensure our actions meet the high ethical and professional standards our nation expects the American Soldier to uphold.”
The circle game, around for generations, was featured in the early 2000s sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle” and has made a resurgence as a photobomb prank in sports team photos — along the same line as “bunny ears” fingers. In more recent years, it became an internet meme in an online game of “gotcha.”
But the Anti-Defamation League claimed the gesture, with the thumb and forefinger touched in a circle and the other fingers outstretched, has been appropriated as a signal for white supremacy. That started as a hoax perpetrated on the online message board 4chan. The original idea was to take an innocent and common gesture and arbitrarily transform it into something that would enrage liberals.
In 2018, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended an officer who appeared to be making the hand sign during a Hurricane Florence television broadcast.
In May, the Chicago Cubs banned a fan from Wrigley Field for life after he was seen making the gesture during a telecast.