Army, Navy investigators find hand gestures made during football broadcast weren't racist

Hand gestures flashed by West Point cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen at last weekend's televised Army-Navy college football game in Philadelphia were not racist, separate military investigations conducted by the military academies found.

Clips of the "OK" hand gestures by the service-academy students during a Dec. 14, ESPN College GameDay broadcast game went viral and raised concerns over whether the signs were associated with white nationalism.

The gesture, which features the thumb and forefinger that touch in a circle with the other fingers outstretched, has been appropriated as a signal for white supremacy in recent years.

The Naval Academy found that two of its midshipmen were participating in a “sophomoric game" and had no racist intent behind the hand signs. During the probe, investigators reviewed TV footage, conducted more than two dozen interviews and background checks by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the FBI.

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Navy midshipmen march before an NCAA college football game against Army on Dec. 14 in Philadelphia. A probe by both service academies into hand gestures displayed by West Point cadets and Naval Academy Midshipmen that were captured on national television concluded the signs were not intended to be racist. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Navy midshipmen march before an NCAA college football game against Army on Dec. 14 in Philadelphia. A probe by both service academies into hand gestures displayed by West Point cadets and Naval Academy Midshipmen that were captured on national television concluded the signs were not intended to be racist. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

It was determined that the freshman Annapolis midshipmen were participating in a "circle game" with their rival West Point cadets, in which someone flashes an upside-down OK sign below the waist and punches anyone who looks at it.

“We are confident the hand gestures used were not intended to be racist in any way," Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck said in a statement. "However, we are disappointed by the immature behavior of the two Fourth Class Midshipmen, and their actions will be appropriately addressed."

The Naval Academy did not specify what punishment, if any, will be administered.

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point reached a similar conclusion.

“Last Saturday we had reason to believe these actions were an innocent game and not linked to extremism, but we must take allegations such as these very seriously," Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, West Point superintendent, expressed in a statement. "We are disappointed by the immature behavior of the cadets.”

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He said the cadets involved will “will receive appropriate administrative and/or disciplinary actions." No details were provided.

The Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, said soldiers must be mindful of thier actions.

"The American people trust our Soldiers to do the right things the right way," he said. "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.”

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," said Gilday. "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.”

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The circle game has been around for decades and was featured on the early 2000s sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle." It is popular among teenagers today, the West Point statement said.

The Anti-Defamation League said the "OK" sign has been appropriated in recent years as a signal for white supremacy. It has been used by Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.