The United States Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy have ruled that the students seen flashing the “OK” hand sign at the Army-Navy football game were playing a game and not displaying a distinct hand gesture that’s become popular among white supremacists.
A handful of West Point cadets and Annapolis midshipmen were seen giving the “OK” sign as an ESPN anchor delivered a report during a broadcast of the Army-Navy game earlier this month. Footage quickly spread on social media and the Military and Naval academies both announced that they would be launching investigations.
In a press release, the Military Academy said that “the cadets were playing a common game, popular among teenagers today, known as the ‘circle game’ and the intent was not associated with ideologies or movements that are contrary to the Army values.” Playing the circle game involves subtly flashing an “OK” sign and convincing a friend to look at it; if they do, the punishment is typically a punch in the arm.
“We investigated this matter thoroughly,” said Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy. “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.”
The investigator reportedly found that cadets had been playing the circle game before the ESPN host arrived in the crowd for his segment. The Military Academy said that while they did not deem the gesture offensive, the cadets will “receive appropriate administrative and/or disciplinary actions.”
However, as some former circle-game players have pointed out on Twitter, a key component of the game is that the gesture be flashed below the waist, something the cadets in the video don’t seem too interested in doing.
Hi. Past circle game player here. It's played by flashing a circle below waist level and if someone looks at it, they lose (i.e. get punched or dip shoulder to floor).
In THIS case, they're just indiscriminately holding up a "circle" because they're not playing the circle game. https://t.co/kcXHPA3yp4
— Brian Tyler Cohen (@briantylercohen) December 20, 2019
“Racist statements, gestures, and symbols have no place in our Army,” said the Army’s chief of staff, Gen. James C. McConville, in a statement. “The investigation determined there was no racist intent by cadets. The American people trust our Soldiers to do the right things the right way. 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.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the “OK” sign emerged as a popular gesture among white supremacists around 2017. It reportedly began as a 4chan hoax to convince people the gesture represented the letters “W” and “P” for “white power,” but it was soon unironically adopted by actual white supremacists. Still, as the ADL notes, it’s important to evaluate the motives behind an “OK” gesture on a case-by-case basis because it’s still overwhelmingly used “as a gesture signifying assent or approval.”