(CBS News) – The United States Naval Academy is investigating whether a hand gesture flashed by a midshipman during a TV broadcast Saturday was meant to be a sign for “white power.” The incident occurred during ESPN’s telecast of “College GameDay,” the sports network’s pregame show for college football, before the annual Army-Navy football game.
While ESPN reporter Rece Davis was doing a live segment from the sidelines, several Army cadets and a Navy midshipman were seen flashing the “OK” hand gesture in the background. The symbol has been co-opted by white supremacists recently and is sometimes used to convey the sentiment “white power,” due to the fingers forming the general shape of the letters “w” and “p,” according to an explanation by the Anti-Defamation League. The use of the gesture as a racist message originally started as a hoax, but has since been adopted in earnest by actual white supremacists and members of the so-called “alt-right.”
“U.S. Naval Academy officials have appointed a preliminary inquiry officer to conduct an internal investigation into the hand gestures made during the ESPN ‘College GameDay’ broadcast prior to [Saturday’s] Army-Navy game,” Naval Academy spokesperson Commander Alana F. Garas said in a statement to CBS News.
“Based on findings of the investigation, those involved will be held appropriately accountable. It would be inappropriate to speculate any further while we are conducting this investigation,” Garas added.
The United States Military Academy has also reportedly launched an investigation into its cadets, who were also seen making the gesture during Davis’ report.
“West Point is looking into the matter,” Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Ophardt, a spokesman for the academy, told The New York Times. “At this time we do not know the intent of the cadets.”
While the gesture can be used to signal a racist message, it also has more benign interpretations. Aside for meaning “OK,” the gesture is also sometimes used as a part of the “circle game” where the hand sign is made below someone’s waist and — if another person looks at it — the person making the symbol gets to punch whoever looks.
A Cubs fan in May was permanently banned from Wrigley Field following a similar incident. A fan flashed the gesture behind Doug Glanville, who was reporting from a spot in the stands.
“Such ignorant and repulsive behavior is not tolerated at Wrigley Field,” Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said, following the incident.
“The person responsible for that gesture will never be welcomed back at Wrigley Field,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said at the time. “I think it’s important to have a strong response to send a message that this is a place of inclusion.”