CBSN

CBS/SI investigation: Sports, gangs often linked

For years, the one area that seemed off-limits to gangs was organized sports. But now a CBS News/Sports Illustrated investigation finds a growing connection between gangs and sports, with athletes getting caught up in senseless gang violence at times.

CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian shared a profile on "The Early Show" of Dannie Farber, a student athlete who is believed to have died as a result of gang violence.

Violent gangs impact college sports

As a senior at Compton's Narbonne High School, Dannie Farber was a popular, positive force. An all-city wide receiver, he led his team to its first city championship in 2008 and dreamed of one day playing for the University of Southern California.

"He was a special kid, even when he was little," Danielle Lewis, Dannie Farber's mother, said. "He wanted to live life and not really be fearful."

It was Memorial Day weekend in 2009 when Farber sat down to dinner at a Louisiana Fried Chicken in Compton, Calif. With surveillance cameras running, a young black male approached Farber and his girlfriend Araceli Nogueda.

"He walks straight up to the table and says, 'Where you from, cuz?'" Nogueda recalled.

"What does that mean in this neighborhood?" Keteyian asked.

"He was gang banging on him. He thought he was a gang banger. I don't know why," Nogueda said. "Dannie gets up, with his fist balled up and is like, 'What'? And that's when he started shooting."

When it was over, Farber had been shot three times at point-blank range, collapsing as he stumbled to the door.

"I lifted up his shirt, I didn't know what to do," Nogueda said. "And I (saw) a bullet hole in the middle of his chest, and I knew he was going to die."

After an eight-month investigation, police arrested a 21-year-old Arlon Watson, a known member of the Crips, on first-degree murder charges. Detectives suspected Farber had been mistaken by Watson for a rival gang member.

Lewis remembers learning of her son's death, "'Oh just can't believe it,' that's all I was saying, like, 'This has gotta be a nightmare, this is like a nightmare.'"

"It just seems like your whole world just comes to an end," Kenneth McGee, Farber's stepfather, said. "It's a pain that never goes away."

In the end, Farber was an innocent victim at the intersection of gangs and sports, a place Sgt. Brandon Dean, a supervisor in the Los Angeles Sheriff Department's Gang Unit, experiences almost every day.

"A lot of times with these athletes they get automatically lumped in with wherever they grew up with and a lot of times unfortunately, they become victims themselves, whether it be shootings or being robbed," Dean said.

Scott Decker, a professor of criminology at Arizona State University, is co-author of a new study on gang members in major-college sports.

"Gang membership in Division 1 athletics is a significant problem," Decker said. "The kinds of crimes that gang members are most likely to be involved in are the kind of crimes that ought to concern athletic directors, police chiefs, university presidents and coaches."

Decker's study was based on a survey of 130 top athletic programs. While the vast majority of college athletes are not involved in gangs, it found that 19.5 percent of the 87 campus police chiefs who responded reported "direct knowledge of a student-athlete who retained gang membership while at their university."

"It's a recognition that says we need to pay attention to the problem more systematically, so it doesn't get out of control," Decker said.

Violent gangs impact college sports

As part of a special report in this week's Sports Illustrated, CBS News and Sports Illustrated went to Compton, Calif., the birthplace of hundreds of blue-chip recruits over the years; and today home to more than 34 active gangs, totaling more than 1,000 members.

Dominiquez High head football coach Keith Donerson counters the lure of the streets by focusing his players on family and football. "The kids know you have to pick a side," Donerson told Keteyian. "You're either gonna play football or be a gangster. ... Even gangs are considered their own family, so we try to create a family-type atmosphere for ourselves. Like, kids that come from a good family, we're just an extended family. Kids who don't have a family, we're actually their family."

Yet sometimes, despite two protective parents, you simply find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time -- like Dannie Farber, Keteyian said. His senseless killing is a stark reminder of the influence of gangs, a danger more than ever, universities would be wise to see.

For more on this issue, "The Early Show" turned to the Hamm family who has raised four children in the same Compton school district as Farber. They've taken extra efforts to prevent their son Kitam, who has a promising future in sports, from gang influences. Check out the video below for their full interview on the broadcast.