Cleveland wide receiver Andrew Hawkins made an emotional defense on Monday of his decision to wear a “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” T-shirt prior to the Browns’ NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The gesture was denounced by the president of the Cleveland police union as “pathetic” and demanded an apology from the Browns.
But Hawkins said he didn’t intend to denigrate all police officers.
“My wearing of the T-shirt wasn’t a stance against every police officer or every police department,” said Hawkins, who met with reporters on Monday but did not take questions.
“My wearing of the T-shirt was a stance against wrong individuals doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason to innocent people.”
Tamir Rice, 12, was shot and killed by police in Cleveland on November 22 after he was spotted in a playground wielding a toy gun. John Crawford was shot and killed by police at a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio, in August while carrying an air-pump pellet gun he picked up in the store.
The shootings were among a string of deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of police, which also included the shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the choking death of Eric Garner in New York.
Hawkins joins a stream of US pro athletes to support protests that have swept across the United States.
They included St. Louis Rams players who took the field making the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture associated with Brown, and football and basketball players donning T’shirts reading “I can’t breathe” in a reference to Garner’s last words as he was held in a chokehold.
Hawkins said he knew he could be criticized for his gesture, but felt the need to support Rice’s family.
“If I was to run away from what I felt in my soul was the right thing to do, that would make me a coward and I couldn’t live with that,” Hawkins said.
Like Derrick Rose of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, Hawkins said thinking of his young son strengthened his resolve to become involved.
“My number one reason for wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin,” he said. “And that scared the living hell out of me.”
The Browns released a statement on the matter on Monday.
“We have great respect for the Cleveland Police Department and the work that they do to protect and serve our city,” the team said. “We also respect our players’ rights to project their support and bring awareness to issues that are important to them if done so in a responsible manner.”
Watch Hawkins’ remarks, as posted online by Cleveland.com, below.