Slap Hitter: Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley in big Sports Illustrated article (and no, it's not flattering)


This week's Sports Illustrated arrived with no warning on the cover that inside would be a seven page back story profile of our little ol' East Bay high school scene. Um, it's not pretty. The article's worth reading for its train wreck appeal. Titled How Dreams Die it's strangely presented in a low-profile manner. There isn't a reference to the issue's longest story of the week anywhere on the cover, it takes a pretty thorough search of the SI website to find the story and ultimately there doesn't seem to be much buzz yet in the East Bay. Maybe nobody's found it yet?

The article in short says that in today's inner cities, being a high school age sports stud is no protection from the violence of gang culture. Author George Dohrman posits that back in the day, athletic achievement gave teens a sort of "free pass" from the pressures of peer conflict and choosing sides. Whether or not that too is a comforting myth, it's hard not to feel for Dohrman's protagonist in the story, Berkeley's Alfred Lawson, a teen who follows the tropes of "athletics as a refuge" on his path out of gang strife. The Terrance Kelly story, here given a sidebar called The Hardest Loss details the tragic death of a Richmond kid days away from a full ride to the University of Oregon. The story isn't unique to the East Bay, but references to the young athlete's journey from Oakland to Berkeley from the flat lands to the hills and back gave this reader a bit of a chill (of recognition? of having my head in the sand? of being an "innocent" bystander?).

No real conclusions get drawn and no real moral reveals either. I'm not sure that I even buy that the vulnerability of a young athlete is any more tragic than the meance facing a young scholar or young layabout on mean streets anywhere, but the story's solid reportage shouldn't just be brushed aside or ignored, even by the people who put it between the slick covers of the magazine itself.— Kibby Kleiman