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Like so many across America outraged and disturbed by the civic disturbances of the last few days, Browns running back Isaiah Crowell took to social media to vent his anger. Unlike most Americans, Crowell is employed by a professional football team, and Crowell’s employer isn’t pleased.
Crowell posted on his Instagram account a graphic drawing of a hooded man slashing the throat of a kneeling police officer. The picture was taken down after about a minute. (You can view a screencap of the pic here; discretion advised.) He indicated that he posted the photo in response to separate incidents in which policemen shot and killed African-American men during routine inquiries in Louisiana and Minnesota. The two events led to a series of protests around the country. Crowell posted, and deleted, the pic prior to an ambush in Dallas which left five police officers dead.
In response to Crowell’s since-deleted post, the Browns reacted with an unusually direct statement: “We have spoken to Isaiah regarding his extremely disturbing and unacceptable social media decision,” the team said. “It was completely inappropriate and we have made him aware of our high level of disappointment. Isaiah has apologized but also knows that just an apology is insufficient and that he must take steps to make a positive difference after a very negative and impactful post.”
(Worth noting, as always seems necessary: this is not a free speech issue. Crowell is free to say whatever he wants. This is an employment issue; Crowell’s employer is no more pleased with him than yours would be if you began making inflammatory statements in the break room.)
The league also weighed in. “The image was inappropriate and insensitive,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Cleveland.com via email. “He realized this, took down the post and has since apologized.”
Crowell posted a lengthy statement on Twitter: “Last week was an emotional and difficult week as we saw extreme acts of violence against black men across our country as well as against police officers in Dallas. I posted an image to Instagram in the midst of that emotion that I shouldn’t have and immediately removed it. It was an extremely poor decision and I apologize for that mistake and for offending people.
“My values and beliefs do not match that image. I am outraged and upset by the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile along with so many others. I am also outraged and saddened by the attacks in Dallas and the deaths of the five honorable police officers (Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa) who were providing protection while trying to keep peace.
“We have to be better as a society, it’s not about color, it’s about what’s right and wrong. I was very wrong in posting that image. Every single life matters, every death as a result of violence should be treated with equal outrage and penalty.”
Fans and media can make too much of an athlete’s social media musings, speculating endlessly on whether a player follows a team or wears another team’s hat carries significance. But as Crowell saw, taking a stand on political issues brings attention, often negative, on another order of magnitude.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.