Monday, June 8, 2009

Police Playing the Policed: on having the LAPD in our league

I am a founding officer for the Union Football League, an AYSO-affiliated adult league which plays near downtown Los Angeles. When we heard that the LAPD team would field a team during our first season we were a bit wary.

The field is smack in the middle of Pico-Union, and right down the street from the new police station. This is the home of the infamous 1990s Ramparts Scandal. It is also the neighborhood of the May Day "Melee" in which the LAPD used violence to break up a peaceful march and demonstration calling for reform in immigration policies in the U.S., and for recognition of the rights of the migrant communities that define the region. (This 2007 blog article has good video of that event - including silent footage of demonstrators being pushed at gunpoint across the soccer field). The cops in this neighborhood have long been working under a self-generated cloud of fear, anger, and mistrust.

The whole experience was something of a nightmare. The LAPD squad is muscle-bound and incredibly fit. They are a tough team. They can run you into next year, and they don't shy away from using their size advantage to win the ball. Nothing wrong with that. But they also have a coach who shouts from the sidelines: "Take him out out!" "Take him down!" and "Get him!" - while wearing a dark blue jacket with the letters LAPD across his back. Guys from several teams reported more disturbing remarks made on and off the field by LAPD players - e.g. "This [the game] is all you have, you have nothing to go home to."

As fit as they are, their ball handling is just OK. When confronted with the better teams in our league - who play a fast passing game dependent on great footwork, bursts of speed and an ability to change direction and turn in a blink - the cops were sometimes undone by the very thing they normally rely on: their size, and their physicality. It's an old story: the confrontation between a militaristic defensive game and the flash, bob and weave of joga bonito.

In general, when things didn't go their way, they got visibly and audibly frustrated, and played not better but just meaner, and harder. They played with a win-at-all-costs attitude, and were convinced every whistle made in their direction was misplaced. They complained endlessly about the referees - so much so that I suspect the refs dreaded working their matches.

As I'm the treasurer, I may have spoken with the team the most. Every week I'd check in about the league fees, make small talk, try to get to know them.

I had a series of conversations with their manager about the problems that were arising around their presence. He was genuinely upset by the tone of the games and remarkably open in sharing his perspective and experience.

It seemed to them that neither their opponents nor the referees could forget that they were the "cop team". He said that they never had this problem playing in more anglo settings. Although the majority of the guys on the LAPD team are Latino, they seemed only to have problems playing in parts of the city like ours.

It all come to a head towards the end of the season. It was a big game between the LAPD team and Nikys Sports - an unbeatable squad sponsored by the soccer shop across from our field. Nikys has everything - skill, knowledge, experience, strength and speed (the store isn't bad either - they have a twitter feed!). IMHO, Nikys are capable of playing some of the best, most entertaining football you'll see in California.

I didn't get to see that the night they took on the LAPD. The center ref lost control of the match after 30 minutes, and fearing that a player would be seriously hurt, or that the game would descend into a melee, he rightly called it off. I've never seen that before.

All of the referees and the spectators I spoke to held the LAPD team responsible for the disintegration of the match. Their game was marked that night by verbal abuse, dangerous and pointless tackles, and just plain rage.

The guys from Nikys, normally the more 'emotional' of the teams in our league, were remarkably calm about it all and went on to finish the season with an almost perfect record.

The day after that disastrous match, the manager withdrew the LAPD from the league. Their departure was inevitable and we were glad they knew this. We talked on the phone, and I learned this wasn't the first time this had happened. The manager (who'd spent the weekend assisting with the Santa Barbara wildfires) sounded exhausted and depressed. It'd been years since they'd tried playing in a league like ours, because previous attempts had ended exactly this way. He told me, in fact, that Internal Affairs advised them to withdraw (fearing that if they injured an opposing player, the LAPD might be sued).

In that conversation, I caught a glimpse of the complexity of his position - and the seductive lure of the fantasy we'd all indulged in imagining things could unfold any other way than they did.

People wax romantic about the utopic possibilities generated through football but realities of power and authority, and significant histories of abuses of both can't be wished away.

It is not possible for a cop team to play in one of the most policed neighborhoods in the region, and imagine that we can all forget who they are. The cops don't forget it. The player stopped and searched as he pulled into his own driveway ("lots of Toyotas in this neighborhood are stolen") and then issued a citation for making a dangerous turn (!) won't forget. Nor will the guy with a brother in jail. Nor the guy harassed because of his immigration status. Nor will the guy arrested last week for doing what people do at parties in the Hollywood Hills sans repercussion.

Forgetting is a form of entitlement. Forgetting who and where we are is a luxury. If anglo teams in middle class swaths of beachside communities "forget" they are playing the cops, it's because they do not experience themselves as "policed." And if the cops can forget that they are cops when they play those teams, it's because those guys aren't the ones they are policing.

I would like to think that football is not a space of forgetting, but of remembering. Remembering who you are, and who is with you - remembering a history not with words, but in movement.

I will stop myself here, before I get romantic.

I was glad to see the cop team go, and am happier even still to let go of the atavistic scrap of liberalism that overrode my gut feeling about the wisdom of inviting the police into our space of play.


  1. Great blog post! I think it works in a lot of ways more broadly speaking insofar as it points to the way institutional locations (or dislocations) resonate even outside of the institutions "proper" time and space. The "Police-ness" follows them off duty although they certainly court their label by wearing all their LAPD gear. Krikey! How did they make it that long into the league games in the first place?

  2. Jennifer: Your writing SIZZLES! Great post, and congrats on getting a plug at LAObserved!

  3. thank you gustavo! that means the world to me, coming from you!

  4. It seems like someone is confusing the team's profession with their play and forgetting some basic, but unfortunate realities about competitive sports.

    the fact that these cops could not or did not want to separate their jobs from the game is a serious problem. (why advertise with a jacket you're the lapd?) and that players on opposing teams could not let it go is problematic as well.

    but if the lapd team didn't create so many problems on the field with their aggressive play and talk, it would not be a problem.

    so...if they just played like gentlemen (for lack of a better term) there would be little to no drama.

    I understand that soccer is a contact sport. But the league can make the rules and make sure the refs enforce it. This would require clear rules that are intelligently crafted and competent refs. And those two elements are much easier said than done.

  5. I play in this league and against these guys and can honestly say that there were a few evil-spirited people on this team, even more so than I'm used to (after playing for 20 years). It's unfortunate, especially because the team was repping the LAPD. While there will always be mean players, it takes a different tone when those people are representing a group that is paid entirely to "protect and serve" and they take it to such an opposite extreme (they were out there to injure people). Honestly, if some of the behavior of these players wasn't so bad, I wouldn't have thought about posting, but having seen this on LAObserved and reading your thoughts, wanted to collaborate that it goes beyond the stereotypical cops vs. urban youth struggle. While they are up against a significant battle for their reputation in LAPD uniforms and the tension of policing a neighborhood, they are only making it worse with the realities of their on-field actions as well. I'm torn on having them out of the league, but I'm more concerned with having a few of them still on the streets. The LAPD should not have to pull the team from competition, it should have pulled the bad apples from the ranks.

  6. Hi Maze, thanks for your comment & for the back up. What really amazed me was the LAPD team's sense that it was "our" problem, not theirs. Thanks for being a part of UFL's first season.

  7. Jennifer;

    Great post. You're very sharp.

    I have a question that I'd like your input on, so could you please shoot me an email? My email address is in my blogger profile.


  8. Wow, this seems like some SERIOUS, sour grapes on your side?! Seems like you a have a bit of an axe to grind here. I would welcome the LAPD or any police, fire or medical agengy to join our league. If your not adult enough or mature, physically gifted enough to play soccer with the police (IT'S A GAME) then clearly you are in fact part of the problem. I have no doubt that the LAPD's team probably had some "type A" players, but it's not like ANY team doesn't have that same issue. You just seem like you got your clock cleaned by the cops and now your using your keyboard to exact some revenge. You sound like a typical cry baby, waaaa, waaaa. Suck it up and play your game. I have seen you guys in your soccer league, get in fist fights with your kids right there, funny, I have never seen the lapd soccer team involved in those fights. You're probably right, the lapd should stick to keeping our sorry butts safe and not playing soccer with a bunch of malcontent cry babies. I wouldn't want to be a cop in this city with all the BS they have to deal with. here they try and reach out to PLAY A GAME with the citizens of the community, and you bash them. Pathetic. Suck it up and don't be such a chica!

  9. steve, read maze's comments as well as posts on from people who have played in our league and against other teams like this.

    as for sour grapes, my own team beat the LAPD twice. their were sore losers, and, in fact, sore winners - complaining endlessly about everything.

    as for 'stop being such a chica': first, in the game 'chicas' get up when they've been knocked over and play on. they tend not to complain to the ref, whine about this and that on the field - this is one of the reasons why a lot of mean like high level women's soccer. less diving, theatrics, etc. and: this is a queer feminist blog. watch your sexism, because i give red cards (and ban commentators) who are persistent offenders.

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. "...happier even still to let go of the atavistic scrap of liberalism that overrode my gut feeling about the wisdom of inviting the police into our space of play."

    Well said, Jenny. Opening up select spaces to all types of people doesn't really work if, once directly outside of those safe spaces, we fall back into the roles of oppressor and oppressed, police and policed.

    Sadly, so long as they are committing state-sanctioned violence again immigrants, minorities, drug users, etc., etc., cops will be cops even when then they're off duty or sporting cleats.

    (BTW: I found this site on someone's twitter feed, and you can bet I'll be back for more. And I don't even follow soccer.)

  13. Oh, geez, Steve, lighten up. I found this post from some other blog and, from reading it, the fact that the blogger is female or liberal never even crossed my mind (until I looked at the blog title anyway). There is nothing about a man-hating feminist tone in the post. She reported on what went on in her football league that happened to involve the local PD. That's it. Why are you so defensive?

    Jennifer, don't let someone like Steve keep you from writing what you want. This is your blog. Ignore the trolls. I may be a conservative, but I'll be damned if I'll just stand by and let anyone bully anyone else into shutting up, including liberal writers.

  14. Excellent story. Better than most of the human interest fluff you find in most mainstream outlets. Always good to see bloggers who put thought and effort into their posts. It's a tragedy how our society has turned police and community interaction into an "us vs. them" mentality. The job of an officer should be about mediation, not incarceration. Stop looking for the first reason to exert your authority. Be the face of your community, not the face of punishment.

  15. Steve must be a cop wannabe.

  16. "Steve" might as well have used "anonymous coward" as his posting name. Thanks for the post, Jennifer.

  17. Anon3:50 - I was thinking "steve" was probably one of the players on the LAPD team. Love to see where an IP trace of the commenter points to...

  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  19. Let's try to avoid feeding the trolls, shall we people?

    Great post Jennifer, very well-written and thoughtful.

  20. Anon, I'm sure Steve wasn't on the LAPD squad.

  21. Sometimes an image serves a thousand words such as the following of the May Day Melee in Los Angeles for which LAPD has recently agreed to pay 13 million dollars for "misconduct" towards those abused in this horrendous act.

    Another disturbing image of another disturbing May event of LA teachers being put in hand restraints and herded onto buses for peacefully protesting losing their jobs along with 26,000+ other teachers and administrators.

    Steve, I was formerly one to give officers the benefit of the doubt but sometimes reputations (which LAPD has a gigantic rap sheet) are earned for structural rather than personal reasons. Speaking of getting personal, your hysterical post and subsequent attempts at seeming "rational" later, did nothing but divert attention from many of the other interesting things JD was trying to articulate: such as the seductiveness of reaching out to them as the treasurer for her team, and also her ruminations on liberalism and the day-to-day lives of the working poor in that area, and playing on those teams with her and with the LAPD.

    Moreover, calling her a "man-hater" just maps your own fears and insecurities. I think I can vouch for the fact that she's quite fond of men, particularly men who don't act like boys and lash out at ladies on the Internet by calling them "chicas," whatever the hell that means.

    I really seriously don't think you'd want those of us who appreciate this blog at your house for tea and crumpets. You've bought into every mythology around civility, upward mobility, and good citizenship there is. Sorry -- but you're the one who is mistaken. Sometimes opposing viewpoints don't have nice tidy conversations.

  22. Here's the link for the arrest of LA Unified schoolteachers; forgot it above:

  23. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  24. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  25. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  26. Great article.

    I've walked outside USC once late at night, and there was just a pretty big pick up game going on on just a small patch of grass. No doubt, anybody and everybody in LA will play pickup if there are two goals and a ball, but I just felt uneasy and eerie watching that game. Safety was definitely the biggest issue. As much as I want to hold onto the same hopes that soccer cures everything, I just don't see cops adding anything positive in neighborhoods like that.

    We all love cops when they are protecting us, but every single cop is a douchebag when writing us a ticket or playing opposite us on a field. This is fact, sadly.

  27. From one of the LAPD Players....

    As you can tell, the flowery writings from this lady (Jennifer Doyle) are very one sided. These are the sort of thoughts that we have to deal with almost daily. We can't win someone over that is so misguided as this one. Jennifer brings in incidents that have nothing to do with playing in the league. A history of "negative" police issues that have been in the papers for years and that happened years ago and she decides that this is the place to resurrect those community issues?

    In fairness to both sides, where are the "positive" things we do in the community? Why didn't you mention any of that instead of glamorizing a Toyota being stopped in the driveway... What was that about??? Really you think that was about soccer....

    And what is Jennifer trying to accomplish by writing a story in this fashion. Is she trying to be part of the healing or part or the anger and prodding to keep negative issues in the forefront.

    She isn't worth the time and effort to respond to. Unfortunately, she is a self ordained prophet on the evil of LAPD.... What a shame that intellect can't be put to a more positive use in society.

  28. Just a note to readers about what was going on in the neighborhood on Sept 6, 2010:

  29. Interesting timing on that comment, maybe just a coincidence. While things have certainly improved in terms of just the sheer number of violent crimes committed in Westlake, I would still argue that the community is mainly policed as a group outsiders, all treated as suspect, with little or no community+police interaction (we read above how their involvement with a community Soccer league ended). Unfortunately it's a theme that has played itself out again and again in our brief history, immigrants being bashed and harassed, the difference in this case being that this group is not from Europe, but actual "real Americans", Native Americans, treated as foreigners in their own land.


Feedback? Let me know what you think. Just an FYI: all comments posted to this blog are recorded, whether I publish them or not. I do not publish generally hateful comments - whether they be directed at me or at players and teams or other readers. I appreciate reader feedback, especially from those whose contributions add nuance and complexity to the story.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...