When word came out this past December that the police officer responsible for the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice would not be brought criminal charges, thousands of people voiced their disapproval, including Cleveland Browns players Andrew Hawkins and Johnson Bademosi, who expressed their dismay via twitter.

And while there is strength in numbers, people like NFL players get a little more attention, especially when there’s a back-story.

A year ago, the two made their statements of support. And today, that support has stayed strong. Such consistency is a testament to character.

Andrew Hawkins Wears “Justice for Tamir Rice” Shirt in 2014

A year ago, while protests and the #blacklivesmatter movement gained strong momentum following numerous deaths of young black people brought on by the hands of white police, tensions built and the groundswell of discontent reached a fever pitch, numerous pro sports players spoke out.

During that time, late in 2014, Cleveland Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a shirt during warm-ups for a game against the Bengals. The shirt read “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and branded the words “The Real Battle of Ohio” on the back.

According to Think Progress, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, playing with a toy gun in a park near his home, was shot and killed by members of the Cleveland Police Department; Crawford was killed in an Ohio Walmart while holding an air gun. Both were black.

The Cleveland Police Patrolman Union President demanded an apology from Hawkins, stating in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, “It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law. They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology.”

The Cleveland Browns stood by their man.

“We have great respect for the Cleveland Police Department and the work that they do to protect and serve our city,” stated the response letter. “We also respect our players’ rights to project their support and bring awareness to issues that are important to them if done so in a responsible manner.”

Later on in the week, Hawkins spoke for six minutes on the subject and let it rest. He noted that he was aware that the consequences of expressing his feelings could be great and possibly damaging to his career.

“If I was to run away from what I felt in my soul was the right thing to do, that would make me a coward and I couldn’t live with that,” Hawkins said.

“My number one reason for wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin. And that scares the living hell out of me.”

“A call for justice shouldn’t warrant an apology,” Hawkins said.

Johnson Bademosi’s Shirt Says, “I Can’t Breathe.”

Johnson Bademosi

Another Browns player Johnson Bademosi, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, wore his own homemade shirt, with “I Can’t Breathe” written in Sharpie on the back of his warm-up Jersey, a response to the killing of Eric Garner, a young man allegedly choked to death during an arrest on the New York streets whose last words are recorded to include the statement, “I can’t breathe.”

Just like Hawkins, he took a chance and brought his beliefs to the masses, later providing a statement explaining why he did so.

And when word came back that no criminal charges would be brought against the officer whose shots killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Bademosi made his own Twitter statements, continuing to stand up for the young man.

His responses included, “Sat there and watched them criminalize Tamir and justify their own crime.”

“I understand that I am dressed in my own layers of privilege (education, socioeconomic status, etc.) that make me different from Eric Garner, but I still share many of his experiences as a black man in this country. Find me a black NFL player who can say they’ve never been stopped by police and offered a nonsense reason such as, “Oh, we thought your windows were too heavily tinted. Regardless of background, many of us saw in Garner and Rice and Brown a mirror into the lives we might’ve had if we hadn’t become NFL players.”

It’s a delicate balance, but these two Browns players were able to keep their support alive and available to so many who cannot speak for themselves.

Way to go, men.

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