The military is looking into ok symbols made by cadets and midshipmen during ESPN coverage of the Army-Navy game to determine what the symbols really meant.
Ok symbols certainly aren’t new.
Once upon a time, people would hold up a hand with their index finger and thumb touching and other fingers straight up. The symbol, which dates back to the 19th century, is known as the ok symbol.
But times have changed.
Some say white supremacists now have taken over the familiar gesture as a symbol of “white power.”
What we know as the ok symbol began sometime in the 1800s as a symbol for the word OK. (The word actually is OK, not “okay.”) OK has an interesting origin story of its own, which you can find here.
As I mentioned back in October, the Anti-Defamation League added the symbol to a database of racist hand gestures. The symbol’s double meaning stems from the belief by some that the outstretched fingers represent a W while the forearm rising to the circle formed by the thumb and index finger represents a P. WP, in turn, represents “white power.”
But the real irony here is that the alleged use of they symbol by white supremacists began as a prank of false information. Apparently, the wrong people fell for the joke and actually embraced it.
Who’d have thought?
But a group of cadets and midshipmen who made the gesture while standing behind an ESPN reporter prompted a military investigation. Authorities want to know what they were thinking when they flashed the symbol.
(So do a lot of non-military types.)
Could it have been a silly game?
You may have a hard time believing the gesture has any possible connection to white supremacy.
If so, you might have a fairly difficult time buying another possible meaning. For this one, we have to go back to the 1990s and a show called Malcolm in the Middle.
In a season 2 episode titled “Dinner Out,” the title character (played by Frankie Muniz) explains “the Circle Game.”
“Basically, if you can make the other guy look at your hand while you’re doing this below your waist, you get to hit them in the arm,” he says. “It’s stupid, but hey, you get to hit people.”
Stupid is one word for it.
Some have suggested that these cadets weren’t trying to be racist at all, but were instead trying to get people to look at the circle.
It’s an interesting theory, of course, but what’s the payoff for them if that’s what they were doing? If someone watching ESPN’s broadcast actually looked at their hands, they couldn’t punch the viewer…because they weren’t there.
It may not have had any particular meaning…but several of the guys made the same gesture, which seems odd. It’d be one thing if they were each doing something different to distract viewers from the reporter.
But the same gesture repeated multiple times seems far too intentional.
A Navy veteran who said he believes the cadets who flashed ok symbols “disgraced the armed forces” predicted senior officers will come down on them “like a ton of bricks.”
But the ADL makes one thing clear in their write-up:
Because of the traditional meaning of the “okay” hand gesture, as well as other usages unrelated to white supremacy, particular care must be taken not to jump to conclusions about the intent behind someone who has used the gesture.
Let’s hope the investigation uncovers what was really happening.
And let’s further hope there was no sinister message intended. It’s almost 2020.
We all should be better than that.