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Service Academies Find Cadets Were Playing ‘Circle Game’ and Not Making White-Power Hand Gesture During Army–Navy Game

West Point cadets react during filming of Fox NFL Sunday at the United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., Nov 10, 2019. (Danny Wild/USA Today Sports)

The U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Friday cleared three cadets of wrongdoing after they were accused of making a white supremacist hand sign during annual Army-Navy football game.

“The evidence strongly supports a finding that the cadets were playing the ‘circle game,’ an internationally recognized game in which people attempt to trick someone else into looking at an okay-like hand gesture below the waist,” the service academies said in a report released Friday. “Sworn statements from all three cadets convey that their intention was to play the ‘circle game’ in order to garner attention from a national audience as well as surrounding cadets.”

In the “circle game,” another person caught looking at the “OK” sign receives a punch from the person signing. More recently, however, the “OK” hand sign has been coopted by a group of online racists who use the gesture to represent a “WP,” which stands for “white power,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

“We are confident the hand gestures used were not intended to be racist in any way,” Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Sean Buck said in a statement.

Buck added however that the academy is “disappointed by the immature behavior” of the midshipmen and is “fully committed to preparing young men and women to become professional officers of competence, character, and compassion in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.”

“In this case, we recognize there is more work to be done,” Buck said.

Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, expressed a similar sentiment, saying that while they had reason to believe the pranks of the cadets were innocent, “we must take allegations such as these very seriously.”

The internal investigation into the incident recommended that the academies “develop tactics, techniques, and/or procedures (TTPs) that define leader actions … that must be taken prior to public events, such as ESPN GameDay, in order to preserve the value of wide exposure events.”

The cadets will likely be punished for engaging in the game during the event.

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