Sports
5:13 am
Thu August 21, 2014

High School Football Players Steer Clear Of Ferguson Violence

Originally published on Thu August 21, 2014 1:07 pm

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

As we just heard, people in Ferguson are determined to show that good things come out of their community. And tomorrow afternoon about 30 young men, all black, mostly from Ferguson, will be sending that message on the football field. It's the opening game of the season for the varsity football team at McCluer High School, which is just a few miles from where Michael Brown was shot.

Sports Illustrated writer Robert Klemko has spent time with the team as they've been trying to focus on football. He says the coach instructed his players to take caution.

ROBERT KLEMKO: Don't say anything or do anything that you're going to regret. And don't restrain from doing anything and regret that. Be calculated, learn about the history of protests and activism and do what you feel is best.

And he's found that most of them feel that it's best to wait in the wings and fume so that they can be available for their high school football game on Friday.

GREENE: One of the players you followed there is Trevon Spann? Tell me about him.

KLEMKO: He's a running back and his father owns a barbershop on West Florissant. And his stepfather is a St. Louis police officer. So Trevon listens to his friends you know, decry the police action, and curse the police and he just stays quiet because he wants to be a state trooper one day.

GREENE: Even he has had experience and interactions with police that have not been positive.

KLEMKO: Right. When he was in sixth grade, he was playing tag in a park and police rushed him and threw him up against a car and asked him for identification and where he lived. And they said he matched the description of a robbery suspect, which is something that people who grew up here consider a catch-all excuse for police harassment.

GREENE: So one of the messages that the coach gave to Trevon and his fellow players was, any of you could be Michael Brown.

KLEMKO: Yeah. And that was something that he said to get their attention and I think that when he spent at practice not being on the field, but watching the PBS documentary "Eyes On The Prize," he wanted it to resonate with all of them.

GREENE: Remind us about that documentary and tell me why the coach showed it to the team.

KLEMKO: Well, he asked them, had any of them heard of the Black Panthers - who can tell me about the Black Panthers?

And nobody could. And as he told me, in the schools they're getting a very sanitized black history lesson. And so when he showed them the documentary, he wanted them to know all aspects of the civil rights movement so that they could know all the historical methods of African-American protests in the United States, you know, before considering how they were going to respond to the situation.

GREENE: How did these teenagers feel about their community and what Ferguson is going through right now, and how Ferguson's being portrayed?

KLEMKO: That was one of the bigger beefs that the kids had with this whole situation. These guys are reading everything written about them on Twitter and they're taking offense when their town is called you know, things like, ghetto. They don't take pride in growing up in a rough area; they grew up in a suburb. And it was a nice place to live until West Florissant became something like a war zone.

GREENE: These players, you told me at the beginning, are thinking about Friday and their first game and trying to not to give in to temptation, to go out there on the streets and get in trouble. They want to be on that football field. I mean, what does this game mean to these guys?

KLEMKO: It's something that they've been looking forward to all summer and so this game to them is validation for their decision to stay out of the nighttime protests; to stay away from the violence. If they can play this and take out some of those frustrations on the other team, all of this will have been worth it.

GREENE: Robert, thanks so much for talking to us, we appreciate it.

KLEMKO: Thank you.

GREENE: Robert Klemko's writing appears in Sports Illustrated's "The Monday Morning Quarterback."

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.