Its Gridiron Patriots Bring a Message of Tolerance to Boston's Troubled Schools
It was Friday in Boston, a day the National Football League's New England Patriots normally devote to X's and O's. But this was not an ordinary Friday, and Boston—since the beginning of court-ordered school busing five years ago—is far from an ordinary city. This fall several of its 19 public high schools have been struck by brawls, student walkouts and a knifing. Most tragic was the shooting of Darryl Williams, a black 14-year-old Jamaica Plain High School football player, during a game at racially mixed Charlestown High. Wounded near the spinal column by a bullet fired from the roof of a nearby apartment building, the boy is paralyzed from the neck down.
Hoping to cool the continuing racial antagonisms, the Patriots have begun visiting the schools in biracial twosomes, like All-Pro cornerback Mike Haynes, a black Californian, and white placekicker John Smith. Their assignment was Boston's English High School. The school is quiet now, but its red-and-blue doors bear the taunting spray-painted scrawls of recent troubles. There was probably no message the kids had not heard before, but Haynes and Smith are athletes, with the kind of acceptance few adults can hope for.
"I'm the son of a truck driver," the British-born Smith told them. "I lived in a project and was bused to high school. I found education isn't just facts but learning to live with other people." As for the Patriots (about 50-50 black and white), he added, "The team has no problem. We have an objective, and we cooperate toward it. We're not coming here to stand on a pulpit, but we want to tell you it can work."
His teammate Haynes agreed. "I grew up in Hollywood," he says. "Not the Hollywood of the movie stars but where ordinary people live. When busing started, kids were brought to our school and didn't want to be there. But if you have to go, you go. We had trouble too. Fights in the halls, people calling other people 'whitey' and 'nigger.' It got national coverage because of the one percent causing problems." Later, students asked about football, not about the troubles that had brought the players to English. Still, observed the school's headmaster, Bill Lawrence, quietly: "If this helps one kid not call another kid a name when they bump into each other, then it will be a success."
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