- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In their study Decker and co-author Geoff Alpert, a criminal justice professor at South Carolina, conclude that universities don't properly check the backgrounds of their recruits. The study, which was conducted among 120 BCS conference schools and 10 other universities with Division I basketball programs, found that nearly 70% of campus police chiefs and athletic directors who responded believed gang members were participating in athletics at either their schools or another institution.
To further explore the issue of gangs and sports, SI partnered with CBS News and went to Compton, the birthplace of the Bloods and the Crips and a recruiting hot spot for college football and basketball players. On a recent drive through the city's streets, Sgt. Brandon Dean, a supervisor in the L.A. County Sheriff's office assigned to the gang unit in Compton, pointed out that many popular perceptions about gangs date back to the 1980s and '90s and no longer fit the reality. The days of two powerful gangs carving up territory and marking it with colors are long gone.
"Today in Southern California there are hundreds of Crip gangs and hundreds of Blood gangs," said Dean. "Not all Blood gangs and all Crip gangs get along. You have shootings that occur between a Crip gang and another Crip gang." In addition to this fragmentation, Dean said, there has been a large influx of Latino gangs, some of which have ties to drug cartels.
With so many smaller gangs operating in such a congested area, it's common to have multiple rival gangs occupying opposite sides of the same street or different stretches of the same block. "Everything is intermingled," Dean said. It's a situation that makes any young male vulnerable to being mistaken as a member of a rival gang.
"A lot of kids in this neighborhood are gifted athletes," said Dean as he drove past a cul-de-sac where graffiti from three gangs marked walls and fences, and teens hung out drinking and smoking in the middle of the afternoon. "Unfortunately, some get involved in a gang and commit crimes. Others get involved in the sense that they are mistaken as gang members and ultimately get shot and killed as a result."
It's all part of the new world of gangs, in which the long-held tradition of leaving athletes alone no longer applies. In the last four years Hamm has seen nine friends, including several athletes, die as a result of gang violence. Hamm's experience is common in Compton.
"My deepest fear is my environment," says Alphonso Marsh, a senior cornerback and Division I recruit at Compton's Dominguez High, which is trying to use its football program to steer players away from gangs (page 88). "I lost my godbrother. He was killed in 2009 by some boys on the street. He was 17."
The 2009 shooting of wide receiver Dannie Farber, one of the top high school players in the Los Angeles area, underscores the danger that athletes can face every day. During a routine visit to a Compton fast-food restaurant, Farber was approached by a gang member who asked him, "Where you from, cuz?" When Farber stood up and replied, "What?" the gang member shot him four times in a senseless killing that reverberated throughout the city (page 86).
Two years later Kitam Hamm faced an eerily similar situation. One afternoon last spring as he stepped off a city bus across the street from his family's apartment, two young men approached. One had a gun.
"Where you from, Blood?" the one with the gun asked, gang-speak for What gang are you in?