The NFL has hired experts to study game footage to determine whether players are displaying street-gang hand signals as part of their on-field celebrations, the Los Angeles Times reports.
"There have been some suspected things we've seen," said Milt Ahlerich, the league's vice president of security, according to the Times' report. "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."
Gang signs in pro sports gained a higher profile during the NBA playoffs, when Boston Celtics captain Paul Pierce was fined $25,000 for making "menacing gestures" toward the Atlanta Hawks' bench during a game.
Pierce was contrite at the time, saying in a statement "I 100 percent do not in any way promote gang violence or anything close to it. I am sorry if it was misinterpreted that way."
"We were always suspicious that [gang-related hand signals] might be happening," said Mike Pereira, the NFL's vice president of officiating, according to the report. "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 and see if we need to be aware of it."
Ahlerich said he does not believe the problem is widespread, but added that the league has spoken to some players -- whom he declined to identify -- about their use of hand signals, according to the report.
First-year players were counseled on gangs at the league's recent rookie symposium, and a video on the dangers of gangs was required viewing for every player in the NFL last year, according to the report.
But differentiating between a gang sign and something less menacing can involve some guesswork, according to at least one player.
"Guys come from all over the country, and who knows what they're really doing?" Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Dennis Northcutt said, according to the Times' report. "People have got signs for their kids, signs for their fraternities. How do you differentiate who's really throwing up gang signs?
"This is a gang sign," he added, touching his index finger to his thumb to form a squished version of the hand sign for OK. "But at the same time, it's a sign for a personnel group."