Friday, May 17, 2024

Keeping it real? Maybe it’s showing some love

July 26, 2007 by  
Filed under News, Sports, Weekly Columns

( When I was about 11 or 12 years old, every kid in my neighborhood used to look up to this guy called Baby Daryl.

Baby Daryl was a bona fide drug-dealing, gun-toting gangsta on the west side of Detroit. While grown-ups would cross the street when they saw him coming, my friends and I would run up to Baby D with open arms because he would hook us up with watermelon-flavored Now and Laters and handfuls of Bazooka gum. He looked after us, taught us how to ball and talked to us about sex.

I won’t say what it was but let’s just say Baby Daryl gave me my first job. One day I was on my way to the “office” to find out it was closed. Apparently Baby Daryl was shot in the head the night before.

You would think that was enough to set me on the straight and narrow.

It wasn’t.

I fell in with another bad group of guys, and another, and another. All the way through high school I constantly toyed with my own mortality and I have a small lump on the back of my head — courtesy of a baseball bat — to remind me how close I came to following in Baby Daryl’s shoes.

But I was lucky.

I made it out.

A lot of my childhood friends didn’t. A lot of childhood friends of professional athletes with backgrounds similar to my own didn’t make it out either. Consider this: In 1980 there were 143,000 black men in prison and 463,700 in college according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute. By 2000 there were 791,600 black men in prison and 603,032 enrolled in college.

Today, black men make up 41 percent of the inmates in federal, state and local prisons, but only 4 percent of all college students, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The numbers are bleak. And we haven’t even talked about victims of crimes that result in death. Would you let someone you cared about face those odds alone?

The phrase “keeping it real” has become synonymous with being a thug, especially as it applies to black athletes. I’m not saying there isn’t merit to that association nor am I asking for sympathy for the devil. But I do know how difficult it can be to reconcile one’s past with the present.

Sometimes when I go back to Detroit I roll through those old streets hoping to see familiar faces from my youth. Not because I want to jump out of the car and catch up; I just want to see who is still alive. Personally, I have trouble trying to figure out why God saw fit to save me from becoming a statistic and not my friends.

I know if I had the financial means to do so, I would’ve tried to pull them out.

Or maybe they would’ve pulled me under.

I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I would’ve had a hard time looking myself in the mirror if I didn’t try.

I can only assume that’s the conundrum men like Pacman Jones and Michael Vick face each day. For those of us who work 8 to 6 trying to make a dollar out of 50 cents, we see the large salaries of men who get to play games for a living and interpret their lives as being easy. And honestly, the bravado and gluttony of some of the players give you little reason to believe otherwise. But it’s a mistake to assume the world that professional athletes live in is any less nuanced than our own simply because they have more money. In some ways, that fortune complicates matters because it becomes more difficult to say no.

Allen Iverson is right. It isn’t fair to tell someone to just turn his back on the people he grew up with. On the outside, we all know sometimes it’s necessary but that’s an intellectual solution to a problem that’s rooted in the heart.

I don’t believe I am a bad person and to this day I do not believe Baby Daryl was a bad person either. The decisions he made were the exact same ones I made and the circumstances he faced were the exact same ones I faced. You can say I was smart enough to graduate from high school, get to college and make something of myself. That’s true. But so is the fact I could have easily died either one of those times I placed myself in a dangerous situation. In many ways the only difference between me and Baby Daryl is that I made it to my 18th birthday and he didn’t. If I could have prevented his death, I would have. And in some cases these professional athletes believe by keeping ties to the Baby Daryls in their lives — regardless of the activities they are involved in — they are somehow saving them.

Some call it keeping it real.

Others call it stupid.

I call it love.

Either way, it’s hard being the one in the ocean with the life jacket while your friends are drowning all around you.

Especially when you know you started off on the same sinking boat not too long ago.

By LZ Granderson

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