Violent gangs impact college sports


COMPTON, Calif. - In 2007, Brandon "Bull" Johnson charged straight out of Dominguez High in Compton, Calif., and straight into the starting lineup at the University of Washington.

Today, the 22-year-old Johnson sits in a southern California jail and faces murder charges in connection with the shooting of an 18-year-old suspected gang member this summer. Johnson, who has denied all charges, is accused of being, in the words of a prosecutor in the case, "directly affiliated" with the infamous "Bloods" gang.

CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian and Sports Illustrated spent five months looking into the influence violent gangs are having on college sports.

More from Sports Illustrated:
Read the Sports Illustrated report
SI's Jeff Benedict on gang problem in Compton
SI: Senseless killing of L.A. football star

"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," said Scott Decker, a professor of criminology at Arizona State University.

Decker co-authored a study, funded by the Justice Department, showing for the first time the dangerous, hidden influence of gang members in major college sports.

Read the study

The study was based upon a survey of 130 top athletic programs. While the vast majority of college athletes are not involved in gangs, the study found nearly 20 percent of the 87 police chiefs who responded reported " knowledge of a student-athlete who retained gang membership while at their university."

"What it says to me is that gang membership in Division One athletics is a significant problem," Decker said. "It's something worth paying attention to."

No one keeps track, but we found suspected gang-related incidents involving college athletes at Rutgers, Oregon, Oregon State, Nebraska, Nevada and Southern Mississippi - for charges ranging from assault to murder.

Mike Leach was the head football coach at highly-ranked Texas Tech from 2000-2009. Over 20 years of coaching one of his players was shot by a gang member, and he got rid of another who posted gang slogans on his Facebook page.

"If you have somebody drawing influence from something off-campus, especiall illegal involving drugs and firearms," Leach said, "then I think you risk contaminating the other 125 players."

Watch interview with Jeff Benedict of Sports Illustrated

As part of a special report on "Gangs And Sports," Sports Illustrated and CBS News went to a city -- Compton -- where gangs and sports intersect unlike any other. It's the birthplace, over the years, of hundreds of blue-chip recruits. It's also home to 34 active gangs, involving more than 1,000 members.

"A lot of these athletes are involved in the gang, even if they don't want to be," said Sgt. Brandon Dean, a supervisor in the LA County Sheriff's Department Gang Unit. "They start to play sports, but there's such an outer influence for them to join the gang, or at least be associated to the point where they are somehow involved."

At Compton's Dominquez High, class president LaVell Sanders is one of many athletes here working 24-7 to remain free from the grip of gangs -- relying on his family on and off the field.

"Football is an outlet, a big outlet," Sanders said. "It separates you from the other people. You could easily make the wrong decision and be on the streets. But thank God for our fathers that they keep us going in the right path."

Brandon Johnson appears to have wandered off that path. His next court hearing on murder charges is set for next month. It's one more alarming wake up call to the presence of gangs members, moving off the streets and between the lines of college sports.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In this report we stated, "No one keeps track, but we found suspected gang-related incidents involving college athletes at Rutgers, Oregon, Oregon State, Nebraska, Nevada and Southern Mississippi...for charges ranging from assault to murder." CBS News was contacted by both Oregon State and Nevada, who believed this sentence didn't clearly state that the incidents involved athletes at their schools were victims, not perpetrators. In the case of Oregon State, Nevada, Oregon and Southern Mississippi, we wish to make it clear that their students were the victims of crimes - not the perpetrators.