Street gangs growing problem for NFL
League hopes to help players avoid off-field problems.

Published March 4, 2007


Gang tackling is about to take on a whole new meaning in the NFL.

During last month's Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held a meeting about the league's growing off-field conduct problems with select players, owners and union representatives. One of the subjects discussed was the effect street gangs can have on young players, especially those who frequent nightclubs and have come into newfound wealth.

"I was a little surprised, but when you think about it, it makes sense," said Mike Haynes, the NFL's Vice President of Player and Employee Development. "For the most part, we're talking about African-American players. They want to be around people their own age and meet cute girls. Unfortunately, the opportunity for gang affiliation and people in gangs being in the same establishment is higher than you would like for our guys.

"They could end up in a place where there is danger all around them."

There also are players who grew up surrounded by gangs and remain affiliated after reaching the NFL out of friendship or a sense of loyalty even if they aren't members themselves. One of those scenarios may have unfolded fatally in Denver, as police have investigated gang activity surrounding the still-unsolved shooting death of Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams following a New Year's Eve party attended by several NFL and NBA players.

Defensive end Kevin Carter has played in the NFL for 13 seasons and was the Dolphins' NFL Players Association representative until being released Friday. But even Carter admitted he "really had no clue" what some players face until hearing horror stories in Indianapolis.

"Guys like [Tennessee running back] LenDale White talked about gangs and guys being part of gangs when they're growing up," Carter said. "When they get to the NFL, they want to carry that whole gang thing going forward. ... It's a different generation."

The NFL conducts extensive background checks on players before they enter the league and already has mandatory tutorial programs that advise how to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time when hitting the town. For example, Haynes said players are told to speak with nightclub managers to try and procure a "safe place" to sit to avoid potential confrontations.

"When guys come into the NFL with money, they go to clubs and hang out at places where some people have bad feelings toward them basically because they feel shown up by the new money, so to speak," Carter said. "Sometimes, it can create friction with women. All kind of things can happen."

Haynes said the NFL will have meetings this week in Phoenix toward formulating a new plan to better prevent future off-field problems. That includes the possibility of having each team conduct its own rookie tutorial to augment the league's own annual symposium, which will be held in late June in Palm Beach Gardens. New Dolphins coach Cam Cameron has scheduled a rookie tutorial in early May following a minicamp.

Haynes said assistant coaches also may be asked to take a more active role in being cognizant of the off-field lives of their players. That would be quite a wake-up call to some older assistants, whose only gang knowledge may be watching the Sharks and Jets in West Side Story.

Carter advocates bolstering departments on teams to provide guidance and offer help should an unpleasant off-field situation develop for a player. But for the idea to work, Carter said those staff members should have some autonomy from the franchise.

"Sometimes players feel a player development person is brought in by a head coach as a spy to tell them what's happening in the locker room or who's doing what and going where," Carter said. "Maybe a player has `Mama drama' or issues with a local gang or whatever. They need someone to call and talk to and confide in where that person won't go back with it to the head coach or it's not going to get blown out of proportion and become a distraction for the team.

"It's real important to have someone in place like that with the changing world we live in as it coincides with football."

Alex Marvez can be reached at amarvez@sun-sentinel.com.