The West Point military academy on Friday cleared its cadets against accusations of hate speech after several cadets flashed the “OK” hand symbol on national television before a football game in Philadelphia last week.
West Point concluded an official investigation into the cadets’ behavior at the Dec. 14 Army-Navy football game that was televised on ESPN College Game Day. As seen in footage from that game, both West Point cadets and Annapolis midshipmen flashed the symbol at the cameras.
The weeklong investigation found that the cadets were playing a game known as the “circle game” even before the cameras began filming the audience, and officials concluded that “the intent was not associated with ideologies or movements that are contrary to the Army values.”
The circle game involves one person making the “OK” gesture below the waist until another person sees it, prompting the first person to punch them.
However, U.S. Military Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams said the academy was still “disappointed” by the cadets’ behavior.
“We investigated this matter thoroughly,” Williams said in a statement. “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. We are disappointed by the immature behavior of the cadets.”
While the hand gesture has long been used as part of the circle game played by kids and teens, the “OK” sign has more recently been adopted by internet trolls who created a hoax that repurposed the gesture as a symbol for white power.
The Anti-Defamation League added the symbol to its list of hate signs after it found that some extremists began using the symbol as “a sincere expression of white supremacy.”
Gen. James C. McConville, the Army’s chief of staff, echoed Williams’ statement in his own, noting that “racist statements, gestures and symbols have no place in our Army.”
“The investigation determined there was no racist intent by cadets,” McConville 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.”
The cadets who were under investigation for their behavior during the game will receive administrative or disciplinary actions, though the academy didn’t specify what those actions would be.