The voices of Public Enemy reverberate from a tape player inside the locker room at Jackie Robinson Stadium in southwestern Los Angeles. It is Friday night. Kickoff is only minutes away.
Refuse to lose....
The Dorsey Dons focus on the song's message. Outside in the stands are cheerleaders, spirit girls and parents. There are also scores of gangbangers, identifiable by their braids or their red clothes or the way they turn the brims of their caps.
Move as a team, never move alone....
In two of the last three years, rival gang members have fired shots outside the stadium during Dorsey Don games. Players dived to the ground. Practice was interrupted last spring when gunfire broke out in the park that links the stadium to the school.
Welcome to the Terrordome.
Welcome to Dorsey High, a school situated across from the Jungle, a neighborhood of low-income housing ruled by gangs, pimps, whores and drug dealers. This is the school where the Bloods, founded by Dorsey High student T. Rodgers in the early 1970s, first fought the Crips. It is a place where gangbangers jump students in class. A school in a war zone. Athletics traditionally have been a buffer between students and the violence of the inner city. At Dorsey that is not always the case.
But the school has a football team that has lived through tragedy and found strength. Last season the Dorsey Don Posse, or DDP, won the class 4-A city championship for the second time in three years. The Dons' success has attracted many of the city's best athletes. They come from different neighborhoods and different gangs, but on the Dorsey team they become brothers. Players who might pull guns in another setting clasp hands on the football field.
"There is no Blood. No Cuz. No Crip," says Lane Lewis, a 6'2", 237-pound senior linebacker. "It's DDP. Everybody who is DDP is my family."
Players at Dorsey spend hours practicing, watching tapes of games and lifting weights so that they can win. They also are trying to defy the frightening odds faced by young black men living in inner-city Los Angeles. No player, no matter how unskilled, is cut from the team, because playing for Dorsey can mean a chance at a college scholarship and a way out of the war zone, or at least a place to be after school when gangbangers are looking for someone to jump.
There are exceptions, of course. Some Dorsey players run with their gangs at night and on weekends and show up for practice only when it suits them. The Dons' coaches constantly face the dilemma of whether to discipline these players. Do you let a kid who breaks the rules stay on the team, or do you take away the only positive thing in his life? "It's probably the toughest decision we make," says coach Paul Knox.
Knox and his staff, most of them volunteers, are strong black men who serve not only as coaches but also as role models. They talk to their players like brothers. They listen to them like fathers. They try like hell to keep their players safe.
Especially tonight, in the Terrordome. The game begins. Somewhere across the street, gunfire erupts.
Before kickoff, the Dons' senior leaders keep a tight grip on themselves-and one another.
Some challenges of playing for Dorsey are more daunting than others. Roderick Brown hopes to become the starting quarterback. Antonio Carrion (6) worries about classes. Vincent Junor (9) lives with memories of a teammate who died in his arms of a gunshot wound.
Many of the Dons, who are the 4-A city champs, work as hard in the classroom as on the football field. Michael Bradfield (left) has a 3.0 GPA and helps support his mother and sister. Lewis (right) hopes to make the grades to play college ball. On game days, players wear their jerseys—and shades—to school.
Knox (above, left) teaches not only the fundamentals of football but also the fundamental of life. He demands that players respect one another. Thanks largely to him, they win—which gives them self-confidence, something hard to achieve in the inner city. Carrion (top, opposite) is one of the nation's top-rated receivers.
Finally. Game time at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Only as teammates could a Blood console a Crip (6). Gunfire has occasionally interrupted games, but the only injuries have come from competition. Lewis (42) fractured his ankle in two places and will miss the remainder of the season. What will happen to him now?