How Cops and Athletes Could Team Up


Photo Credit: Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courier Journal. Former NFL players Isaac Sowells, left, and Jason Hilliard now work as Louisville Metro Police officers. If implemented, a unique idea could lead to more athletes pursuing a similar path.

Imagine a world in which NFL MVP and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson returns to his college campus to show Louisville Metro Police officers how to activate their body cameras. Cops run routes and catch touchdown passes from the former University of Louisville star QB, and the video from their cameras is put on a loop in a digital frame. At the end of the week, those recordings could be presented as a parting gift for the officers to really reinforce that positive experience. The Ultimate Fan Experience for the Folks in Blue is a proposed de-escalation workshop that would use team facilities. Instead of boring classrooms, bring police officers and sheriff's deputies to universities and hire on athletes as facilitators. By the end, cops would learn how to not beat and kill people or see Black Americans as a deadly threat to their existence. Such a seminar would meet the criteria for expanded funding under Donald Trump's Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities, and it's an idea that should garner bipartisan support.

Take the training out of the classroom, remove the former cops as facilitators, and give the time to African-Americans. There are only so many hours of training in a police officer's or sheriff's deputy's annual schedule. This idea is intended to replace the time cops would otherwise spend training in armored military vehicles. Let's be honest, playing soldier is probably a lot of fun for them. It's not difficult to see why cops don't want to give that up. It's not that this equipment is necessary. In the vast majority of precincts, it clearly isn't. It's a job perk. If those weapons are taken away, and the training time is replaced with traditional classroom study, whatever lesson is being taught will likely go in one ear and out the other. It'll be completely ineffective. Fun activities that are taken away need to be replaced by other fun activities to keep morale high. The only interaction many cops have with large segments of the Black community is when they're putting people in handcuffs. Athletes, like New Orleans Saints safety Malcom Jenkins, have done ride-alongs, but that's on the cops' turf. Those situations are meant for the athlete to learn from and listen to police. Let's flip the script and take the cops out of their element. Give real time and space to people who defy stereotypes, so they can talk with officers and deputies about the valuable lessons of de-escalation training. Time, distance and cover, the three basics of de-escalation, would have, undeniably, saved Tamir Rice's life. Game-day security contracts could require university, league or team-approved training and background checks. That is already done for hotdog vendors. Do something similar that is tailored for the people who carry guns in the stadium. If the NCAA adopts this policy, it's as good as law. Universities could dovetail this program with criminal justice degree programs. Over time, some student-athletes who participate as facilitators will naturally pursue a career in law enforcement after their sports careers are done. That way, we could train a whole new crop of cops from scratch in the process. By using cops' affinity and loyalty to their favorite team, the lessons they learn will be strengthened by that emotional connection. Using Trump's executive order to implement it would allow Republicans to take some credit. Centering the curriculum around de-escalation training checks boxes for the left, while imparting life-saving lessons. And the program could be replicated in other sports, such as basketball or baseball. This idea isn't the end-all, be-all, but it's an avenue for immediate, meaningful change. Everyone wins.