Linebacker story raises difficult racial issue

Santo Caruso

By Santo CarusoStaff Columnist

One of the best parts of sports is the decisiveness. The unique nature stems from the simplest sports. In track, run the fastest and you will win. In boxing, simply pummel the other guy into submission. Lift the most, jump the highest, throw the farthest, eat the most hot dogs. This is quantitative data not qualitative, and the reason figure skating can’t quite catch on. That and the costumes.

It also makes for boring coverage, so the sports media generates issues that exist beyond the realm of the hard data. ESPN has perfected this, drawing out every possible scenario to the umpteenth degree, covering every story until I feel like my eyes are going to bleed if I hear about T.O. one more time. Further, off the field issues begin to creep in and even take precedence over those concrete results I laud.

This is all a winding road I am taking to approach a twisted issue: race, wealth and law enforcement. The recent case of Steve Foley has brought back into light a constant problem in sports. Athletes are not asked to mature, they are not asked to earn this fortune doing much more than playing a sport they played for free for the entire first portion of their life. They move to rich neighborhoods in the suburbs of the cities where they play. They raise a family, and for most of them, life is fairly simple compared to the poverty they often rose out of.

But let’s not pull punches. These neighborhoods are going to be disproportionately white: Donovan McNabb lives in Cherry Hill, T.O. used to stay in Moorestown. Both of these N.J. suburbs near enough that I can attest to their racial makeup; Camden they are not. Countless statistics show that a majority of the poor are minorities and your own eyes will tell you a majority of NFL/NBA players are African American.

I find myself continuing to skirt the issue, not out of fear of offending anyone, but fear of offending everyone. Racial profiling is a reality, as any black kid who has been pulled over late at night and harassed, or Arab American who gets pulled out of line at an airport, can tell a white kid like me. Now, I circle back to Steve Foley.

Foley is a linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, who has played in the league for nine seasons now with modest success. He was born in Little Rock, Ark., a town that is not exactly Powton. Now he lives now in an affluent California suburb. I am not typically interested in outside linebackers, unless they could come potentially play for the Eagles, but Foley recently was shot by an off-duty police officer.

According to news reports, the officer spotted Foley driving erratically, and despite numerous orders to pull over refused to obey the police officer in his unmarked vehicle, choosing instead to drive home. Eventually, he draws the ire, and gun, of the officer who fired a warning shot before unloading three more into Foley and one into the car. The wounds have placed Foley on the non-football IR for the season, and because it was before the set NFL date the Chargers will not be forced to pay him the $1.5 million he would have made this season.

I am not quick to jump and call this an example of excessive forced or police racism. Nor do I want to make Foley into a sympathetic character, as he had another incident earlier this year where he was arrested for resisting arrest and charged with public drunkenness and battery on a police officer and clearly disobeyed the police officer’s numerous requests to pull over. Also, I do not know the race of the cop in question, or his history, and I suspect if there were a story a better reporter than I would have sniffed it out. (Alhough, I wonder why not one person has mentioned the possibility of Foley suing the city for the lost income due to this shooting. Since there will be no charges against Foley filed, isn’t it possible he could seek reparations for this? Maybe I give reporters too much credit).

Further, Foley’s history and the assertion by the cop that Foley reached into his pants, reminds me of a “Law and Order” episode where the sage Lenny Briscoe says (and I paraphrase), “How many cops do you think died thinking, that’s not a gun?” I am fully supportive of the actions of law enforcement in situations where they feel they are losing control. It is almost ironic to think that Foley has to forfeit what is probably 10 times the salary of this police officer, all to play a game, while he puts his life on the line. Yet, one can’t help but take note at the two differing groups that are so often entwined in controversy, police officers and athletes. A handful of Bengals are arrested in the off-season and the NBA is plagued by clashes between players and the police.

Still I wonder, why are there so few white players arrested? Certainly every white player in these leagues did not come from a wealthy upbringing, off the top of my head I can think of Larry Bird and Brett Favre who faced similar obstacles to their African-American comrades growing up and early in their professional lives. Were the creators of South Park right when they made the episode in which white cops attempt to frame rich black guys out of sheer jealousy?

I won’t walk out on that limb, partially because it is unimaginable. These are not racists running around looking to start trouble and a few bad seeds that have been flushed out of the ranks of the nation’s finest are exceptions. The uniform does not come with a white hood, and I think maybe these situations boil down to a conflict of opposing groups: overpaid, spoiled athletes who think that because they can dunk a basketball or catch a football that the world should bow down to them versus police officers whose power, coupled with the nature of a person who would enter a field as such, tends to make them believe they are the law and chafe at any sort of insubordination. His is not an issue of blacks versus whites

In the grand scheme of things this is all just distractions away from the part of sports everyone loves, the games, the competition, the thrill of seeing world class athletes compete against one another. And distractions are the last thing we need.