Color Scheme

August 11, 2002

If you're a black pro athlete who owns a sweet ride and lives in
a ritzy neighborhood in this country, chances are good you've
been busted for DWB.

Driving While Black.

"It happens to me all the time, especially in Tampa," says
Atlanta Braves outfielder Gary Sheffield, who grew up in Tampa.
"I go home to see old friends, and I get stopped. Or if I'm
driving slow, looking at my old neighborhood, I get stopped. It
never happens in my truck, just in my nice cars."

Denver Broncos defensive tackle Trevor Pryce says an officer
followed him home once, pulled him over and said, "I don't think
this is your car." And Pryce replied, "Why, because I'm black and
driving a Corvette?" Pryce has been pulled over for DWB so many
times he has a new strategy. "I pull up right next to cops," he
says, "roll down my windows and play my music as loud as I can.
Nobody would do that driving a stolen car, right?"

"It's happened to me eight or nine times," says Miami Heat guard
Jim Jackson. "I asked one cop in Dallas why he pulled me over,
and he goes, 'Oh, we're just doing random checks.' Right. Random
checks of black men in nice cars."

When comedian Chris Rock was pulled over on a DWB, he jokes, "It
scared me so bad, I thought I had stolen my car!"

Three times this summer, Miami Dolphins running back Ricky
Williams says, Fort Lauderdale police have stopped or hassled him
for nothing more than the color of his skin.

"One cop pulled me over for no other reason than I was a black
man driving an expensive car [a Hummer]," says Williams, the
former Heisman Trophy winner who moved to south Florida after
being traded to the Dolphins in March. "They said later it was
because my tags were expired. But it was a handwritten temporary
license they couldn't possibly have been able to see. For that
they call the drug dogs and I get handcuffed?" The stop and
search lasted an hour and a half, Williams says, and then he was
ticketed for expired tags and for not having his driver's license
and proof of insurance in his possession.

Twice cops have knocked on his front door to tell him his garage
was open, Williams says, and then asked him for proof that he
owned his cars. They questioned him about what he did for a
living and how much he paid for the cars. It's the kind of
frustration that white athletes never have to deal with.

Williams has started taking the long way to work so he doesn't
have to drive past a police station. Other guys just give up and
drive crappy cars. Sometimes these guys don't even have to be in
a car.

"You go into a Tiffany's in the mall," says Jackson, "and right
away you notice the lights [brighten]. Then the clerk follows you
around, pretending she's just cleaning up. I came out of a
restaurant once and the valet goes, 'Man, what did you do to get
a car like this?' I was like, 'I got a job, that's what I did!'"

The dreadlocked Williams says that when he flies first class,
more times than not attendants ask to see his ticket, assuming
he's in the wrong seat. Houston Rockets forward Glen Rice wasn't
allowed to check into a five-star hotel by a woman behind the
desk who insisted, "I know what you're about."

"What am I about?" asked Rice, who refused to leave until he was
given a room. The desk clerk called police, who recognized Rice
and advised the woman to give him a room. That's when Rice said
no thanks and walked out.

Says Jackson, "I don't think most of white America understands
how it feels. You work hard to be successful, to get some nice
things, and people treat you like you stole them."

"I guess cops think we're drug dealers," says Latrell Sprewell,
the New York Knicks guard. "It pisses you off, but what pisses
you off more is that when they see who you are, they suddenly
change it to, 'Uh, I pulled you over to, uh, can I have your
autograph?'"

When you mix cops with young men who feel persecuted, things can
get volatile. "I feel myself boiling over," says Jackson. "But if
I started yelling at the cops, next thing you know, I'd be in
jail." Or worse. Remember the four young unarmed black men on
their way to a basketball tryout who were profiled by troopers
and stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike, then had 11 shots fired
into their van, wounding three of them?

Williams was so frustrated by his treatment after one DWB stop
that he started to walk home in protest, got a block and a half,
then sat down on a curb and cried. "It hurts your feelings," he
says. "Nobody likes to be treated like a criminal."

And we wonder why so many black athletes are angry.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

"You work hard to be successful, to get some nice things," says
Jim Jackson, "and people treat you like you stole them."

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