The young man stares, and my wallet gets nervous. He has the look of a thug, and I am certain his gang is not far behind. His eyes are hard, his lips are tight. But the most frightening thing is on top of his head. There (gulp) is a Los Angeles Raiders cap.
Yep, this is a gang member, all right. At least, that's what members of the Boca Raton School Board would say.
In case you missed the latest act in the Theatre of the Absurd, it happened last week in Boca. That's when those crime-stoppers at the Loggers Run Middle School decided the way to stop gangs was to ban the wearing of NFL T-shirts and caps by their students. In particular, the school board is concerned about the garb of the Raiders (and the NHL's L.A. Kings), enough so that they actually have stopped students in the hall and taken the caps from their heads.
It must work, because there have not been any gang incidents since the ruling. Of course, there were no gang incidents before the ruling, either, because even the school board admits Boca doesn't have a gang problem. The last crime wave Boca suffered was the unexplained loss of several Titleists from the 17th fairway at the Broken Sound golf course.
But now, gangs will know not to go to Boca, because they'll have to check their hats at the city limits sign, and they'll just feel naked without them.
Is this silly or what? You get the feeling that these people sit around and talk about Charles Manson, and then someone says, "It's a shame no one took that 49ers cap away from him, huh?"
Hey, guys, maybe some of these kids just like football. And the more disposed they are to joining a gang, perhaps the more they need a role model such as Marcus Allen. Think about it.
This isn't to make light of the gang problem in America, which is, of course, terrible. And it's true many gangs identify themselves by wearing colors, and the NFL provides 28 pre-packaged designs. The Raiders, because of their black-and-silver designs, and because of the ominous aura that has surrounded the team for years, are a favored choice of thuglets.
But the officials at Loggers Run (grades 6-8) are missing the point. You see, the thug part has to come first. It isn't as if a Boy Scout troop goes to the sporting goods store, puts on NFL caps and suddenly breaks into a casting call for Beat It. No one puts on a Colts cap and then threatens to kidnap a football team. Well, no one but Robert Irsay, anyway.
You get the feeling that these guys have seen West Side Story one too many times. You know the line where the gang member says "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way." Would someone tell them he wasn't talking about the New York Jets?
There are a lot worse things a youngster can wear than a hat or T-shirt that says he's a fan of an NFL team. For instance, he could wear a T-shirt saying he's a fan of the New Kids on the Block.
But not at Loggers Run, where it doesn't matter if you are the president of the Beta club, vice president of your class and an honor student. Wear an NFL cap, and you're in trouble.
"Excuse me, Mrs. Ramjet? This is Principal Wormer. I'm afraid that we caught little Roger wearing a Phoenix Cardinals cap this morning, and we're afraid he's going to fall in with bad companions. And if not bad, then certainly dull."
Oh, come on. Shouldn't these administrators be out playing Def Leppard records backward or burning Kurt Vonnegut's books or something? And let's cut that hair, son.
You could understand, then, when the students at Loggers Run all showed up the following day dressed in NFL gear as a protest. Probably, they were afraid the administrators would notice that gangs often wear pants, too, and those would be the next items banned.
What are these administrators concerned with? That kids in Falcons hats will start hitting late? Those kids in Bucs T-shirts will try to underpay the lunchroom cashier? Those kids in Patriots T-shirts will harass women reporters? (Okay, on that one, they might have a point).
The way the NFL is run these days, in fact, there is less danger of your son identifying with the league and becoming a thug than there is that he might become a humorless corporate attorney.
Yes, some gang members will wear NFL paraphernalia. A young man named Ickey Woods did. So did Pepper Johnson, and Anthony Smith. Reach them in care of the Bengals, Giants and Raiders _ where they now play.
Maybe, they will tell you that their attraction to sports helped get them away from their gangs, not into them.