Gridiron stars face crackdown on gangland hand signals

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The Independent US

Heaven forbid that any American football stars put a beefy finger in the wrong place during the forthcoming season. In an attempt to repair the sport's image, which has been darkened by a string of scandals, gridiron's governing body has announced a crackdown on players who flash gangland hand signals during their on-field celebrations.

A team of experts has been hired to analyse video footage of games and establish whether there is anything unsavoury going on behind the high-fives that greet a successful passage of play.

It comes after the murder of Darrent Williams, a cornerback for the Denver Broncos, who was shot last season during an altercation with several gang members. "There have been some suspected things we've seen," admitted Milt Ahlerich, the National Football League's vice-president of security, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "When we see it, we quietly jump on it immediately, directly with the team and the player or employee involved to cease and desist. Period."

Referees have been advised to alert their league headquarters of anything unusual or suspicious, he said, including "symbols, clothing, jewellery or other items that would signify an association with criminal gang enterprises".

The issue is causing soul-searching across American sport, and gained national attention in April when one of the country's most prominent basketball players, Paul Pierce of the championship-winning Boston Celtics, was fined $25,000 (£13,000) for making "menacing gestures" as he walked toward an opponent's bench.

New recruits to the NFL were required to attend a lecture on gang culture at the recent pre-season "rookie symposium". A video outlining their off-field responsibilities, which carries extensive warnings about the dangers of gangs, has been made required viewing for every player in the league.

"We were always suspicious that gang-related hand signals might be happening," said Mike Pereira, the NFL's vice-president of officiating. "But the Paul Pierce thing is what brought it to light. When he was fined ... that's when we said we need to take a look at it."

Mr Pereira declined to outline how offenders would be penalised, but said: "It will be dealt with harshly. The commissioner is not going to stand for gang signals on the field".

Although many players admit to having seen gang signals on the field, some say the new rules are a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The former NFL player Marcellus Wiley, who grew up in a tough district of South Central Los Angeles, said the crackdown was misguided.

"A lot of guys when they get into the league, they aren't actually throwing up gang signs as if they're still active gang members, or were ever gang members," he said. "But it's just like Reggie Bush wearing [the area code] 619 under his eyes. It's just kind of to symbolise where you came from."