Commentary

'Sports changed everything' in rivalry

Former player has worked to remove fear from Dorsey-Crenshaw football game

Updated: November 12, 2010, 12:04 PM ET
By Shelley Smith | For ESPNLosAngeles.com

The Dorsey-Crenshaw football game, scheduled for Friday night at Dorsey, used to be played during the day for fear of gang violence. Dorsey borders Bloods territory; Crenshaw borders Crips territory.

Ghalee Wadood, a kid from a Crip neighborhood who enrolled at Dorsey because he wanted to play football, remembers.

[+] EnlargeBlood Cuzzins
Courtesy of 3 Feet Inc.Ghalee Wadood calls upon his experiences at Dorsey in "Blood Cuzzins."

He remembers the game being shot up by gang members his junior year in 1991. He remembers a teammate having to switch jerseys to avoid detection by a rival gang his senior year. Wadood has seen teammates and friends die. He has been a target.

"The first day at school and I was, 'Oh, I can't go here.' They [Bloods] were everywhere. And I had on my little blue Dockers. I knew I was going into enemy lines and I had to change up where I was coming from. Because I ain't no fool. I ain't trying to get beat up. I'm coming to play football."

Still, they called him "Crab" and tried to pick fights. But then he became part of the football team, a quick-footed defensive back, and his teammates accepted him and protected him. They bonded as brothers, rather than enemies.

"Sports changed everything," Wadood says. "Sports is what's real and gang banging is what's fake. You go through everything with your team and you become family. Gang banging is just a real sad brainwash."

Wadood channels his experiences at Dorsey and growing up in L.A. in "Blood Cuzzins," a novel that chronicles life in gang-infested neighborhoods, how a family with feet on each side survived and how one man got out and made a difference. It is jarring and very real.

Wadood started writing the book when he was in the hospital, after a horrendous motorcycle accident in October 2008 partially severed his foot. Doctors were able to reattach it, but the rehabilitation process has taken longer than he expected. He still walks with a cane and a boot. But he's alive.

After his career at Dorsey and then at San Jose State, Wadood realized his calling was back in the inner city, working with the Snoop Youth Football league and mentoring junior high players along with former Dorsey teammate Keyshawn Johnson, who is now an NFL analyst for ESPN.

Through their efforts, and the efforts of numerous anti-gang organizations, such as Pete Carroll's "A Better L.A.," "Unity One" and Jim Brown's "Amer-I-Can," football games in Los Angeles are no longer automatic targets for violence.

"A lot of us played together after high school in college or junior college," Wadood says, "and a lot of us are back. So a brotherhood has been formed and we are coming back to help these kids out and simmer down. They're more respectful of one another. Some guys are still into the life, but they respect the other side when it comes to sports. If people from Dorsey go over to Crenshaw, they know there's not going to be any B.S. They are not walking into a trap."

Wadood is hoping to get enough donations to place books in youth correctional facilities across California and the U.S.

"No one has ever put it out there like this, capture it the way I did," he said. "I took all the stuff that we think we love -- and that's money and dope and fancy cars -- and show how it's so glorified. Then you mix the message in between it, that why are we killing each other for it."

"You take a step back and just see how stupid it all is," Wadood says. "I just hope to cut the light switch on."

"Blood Cuzzins" is available at www.3feetinc.net. A portion from every sale will be donated to the Snoop Youth Football League.

Shelley Smith is a reporter for ESPN.

Shelley Smith

SportsCenter correspondent
Shelley Smith joined ESPN in January 1997 after working part-time as a reporter for the network since 1993. She has covered Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, the BCS championship game, the Stanley Cup playoffs, golf and tennis championships and more.

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