NYTimes | Outside a small corner of the world, it was a little-known gesture: extending one arm straight to the ground, while crossing the other across the chest toward the opposite shoulder.
But its profile has risen rapidly in recent days, once the hand signal — known in France as the quenelle — crossed into the world of professional sports when Nicolas Anelka, a French soccer player, used it to celebrate a goal during an English league game on Saturday.
The gesture has stirred controversy in France as its popularity has grown. Dieudonné, a divisive comedian who created it at least a decade ago, has claimed that it is simply a symbol of “anti-system” protest. But critics say that because of Dieudonné’s routines, which they call offensive, and because of his politics, the salute has racist and anti-Semitic connotations.
The Football Association, English soccer’s governing body, began an investigation into Anelka’s use of the gesture. He could be disciplined. The public response was just as swift, as photographs and video of other French athletes holding the pose surfaced.
There was one of Samir Nasri, a star midfielder for Manchester City, making the gesture outside the team’s training site and one of Mamadou Sakho, a Liverpool defender, posing the same way with the comedian himself. Photographs emerged of Tony Parker and Boris Diaw — two Frenchmen who play in the N.B.A. for the San Antonio Spurs — doing the gesture with Dieudonné.
Parker released a statement Monday apologizing, noting that the photograph was three years old and saying that he believed at the time that the gesture was solely comedic in nature. (The Spurs, who have for years had a geographically diverse lineup, held practice on Monday afternoon, but Parker, Diaw and Coach Gregg Popovich did not speak to reporters.)
“While this gesture has been part of French culture for many years, it was not until recently that I learned of the very negative concerns associated with it,” Parker said in the statement, adding, “Since I have been made aware of the seriousness of this gesture, I will certainly never repeat the gesture and sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding or harm relating to my actions.”