“This one stinks like a beached whale.” That’s how Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin described the police shooting of San Diego Chargers star linebacker Steve Foley. Foley was shot at 3:30 A.M. Saturday night in front of his home by an off-duty police officer named Aaron Mansker. Mansker, who has been on the force since 2005, followed Foley and a friend in an unmarked police car for more than 20 miles without once calling for backup or identifying himself. Upon reaching Foley’s home, Mansker shot him three times: in the leg, arm and chest. Please take a moment to digest the scenario. At 3:30 in the morning, in an unmarked car, an off-duty cop followed Foley to his home and shot him. As Conlin wrote, “Did this officer fail to charge his cell phone? Amazing how by day, with TV news helicopters overhead, a stoned crazy can lead a scary, high-speed chase through half of SoCal with no shots fired. But by night, one off-duty cop can go from one end of his large county to another and end up using his gun in an apparent solo bust. Charles Bronson lives.”
On Sunday, the sheriff’s department issued a statement that Foley’s car, driven by his friend, had been driving erratically, “weaving at high speeds.” The statement failed to mention just how Mansker happened to be in position to follow Foley and why he didn’t so much as send a smoke signal for assistance. The statement also didn’t address Foley’s recent – and scalding – history with the San Diego police force. In April, police arrested Foley for multiple crimes including resisting arrest, battery of an officer, and public intoxication. Last week, the DA dropped the case and cleared him of all charges. And now Foley’s shot.
“Stinks like a beached whale”? More like a beached Bull Connor.
The Chargers, in craven fashion befitting a team owned by the odious Alex Spanos, have now put their ace defender on the “non-football injured reserve list.” This means Foley has “forfeited” his entire 2006 salary since “the injury occurred in a non-football capacity.” But did it? A case can be made that what happened to Foley was very much a function of football. It seems that the combination of large Black jocks draped in conspicuous wealth is proving to be an irresistible ambrosia for police officers that dabble in racial profiling. Over the summer, Wizards All-star Gilbert Arenas was arrested for getting out of his car in Miami to speak to a policeman arresting his friend and teammate, Awvee Storey. The Cincinnati Bengals have had so many run-ins with the police this summer they are being called “the Cin-mates.” The Portland Trailblazers, which the sports radio wits – on loan from the Algonquin Round Table – call “the Jailblazers”, even held a meeting where the team was advised to avoid cooperation with police. An August 23rd article by John Canzano in the Oregonian revealed the details of the 2003 meeting where team president Steve Patterson, told his team, “Remember, the police are not your friends.” Canzano wrote, “That 2003 meeting was a seminar on traffic stops and probable cause given by a group of legal consultants the Blazers hired. The consultants instructed team personnel on what they should do in the event they were ever pulled over in a traffic stop or sought by detectives for questioning in a legal matter. If police ask you if you’ve been drinking, ‘No matter what the circumstance, say no,’ they were told. If police ask you if it’s OK to take a look inside your automobile, say no. If they ask you anything at all, those in the room were advised, the answer is always no.” Canzano’s piece is a critique of the Blazers’ meeting. His conclusion is, “[The fact] that the Blazers have assumed an adversarial position with the men and women who are here to serve and protect is disappointing. It’s weeks like this one that we wish the seminar had been on civil behavior and not civil rights.”
But it’s not the jocks that need the discussion on “civil behavior” It ain’t Peyton Manning getting cuffed, shot, and maced. This is the unspoken reality racial profiling being played out your morning sports page. As the ACLU wrote as part of a recent study, “Is racial profiling real? Most Americans think so. A July 2001 Gallup poll reported that 55 percent of whites and 83 percent of blacks believe racial profiling is widespread. And the reports of thousands of racial and ethnic group members across the country add credibility to the perception that racial profiling is real. These are stories from all walks of life, not just hardworking everyday people, but celebrities, professional athletes, and members of the military…”
When former Georgia Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, was arrested earlier this year after a confrontation with Capitol Hill police, her lawyer, said, “Ms. McKinney is just a victim of being in Congress While Black [CWB].” Well, let’s add being a “Jock While Black” to the list. Or maybe just call it BWB: Breathing While Black. At this point, that seems to be Steve Foley’s most obvious offense.
[Dave Zirin is the author of "'What's My Name Fool?': Sports and Resistance in the United States" (Haymarket Books) You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing [email protected]. Contact him at [email protected]]