Concerned that some of its players are flashing signals related to street gangs, the National Football League has hired experts to examine game tapes and identify the hand gestures, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
"There have been some suspected things we've seen," NFL vice president of security Milt Ahlerich told the Los Angeles Times. "When we see it, we quietly jump on it immediately, directly with the team and the player or employee involved to cease and desist. Period."
Ahlerich says the NFL has long warned its players about the influence of gangs. Concern intensified after Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was gunned down following an altercation involving known gang members in 2007.
The concern was raised with first-year players at the recent rookie symposium, and a video on the dangers of gangs was shown to every player in the league last year.
"Guys come from all over the country, and who knows what they're really doing?" Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Dennis Northcutt told the paper. "People have got signs for their kids, signs for their fraternities. How do you differentiate who's really throwing up gang signs?"
Northcutt gave an example.
"This is a gang sign," he said, touching his index finger to his thumb to form a squished OK sign. "But at the same time, it's a sign for a personnel group."
Mike Pereira, the NFL's vice president of officiating, said the gang experts being consulted by the league take those factors into account. They are looking for "symbols, clothing, jewelry or other items that would signify an association with criminal gang enterprises," Ahlerich said.
Game officials will not be asked to identify gang signals but will alert league headquarters of anything suspicious they see.
League executives did not specify how offenders will be punished, but Pereira said, "it will be dealt with harshly. The commissioner is not going to stand for gang signals on the field."
The NFL took further notice of the issue after Paul Pierce of the NBA's Boston Celtics was fined $25,000 in April for what the league said was a "menacing gesture" toward the Atlanta Hawks' bench. "I 100 percent do not in any way promote gang violence or anything close to it." Pierce said in a statement. "I am sorry if it was misinterpreted that way at Saturday's game."
The Times said that was the precipitating incident for the NFL.
"We were always suspicious that might be happening," it quoted Pereira as saying of gang-related signals. "But the Paul Pierce thing is what brought it to light. When he was fined . . . that's when we said we need to take a look at it and see if we need to be aware of it."
Other leagues have varying policies on aspects of the gang issue.
The Pac 10 Conference created a rule in 1992 prohibiting football players from wearing bandannas and allowing them to wear elastic skullcaps only if they were in the school's primary colors or black.
Major League Baseball has a policy related to merchandising, and forced New Era to pull New York Yankees caps last year because they featured gang colors and logos.
According to the paper, an NHL spokesman said the league has a policy against inappropriate gestures but has never employed a gang expert.
I wonder if SMG was considered for a position???