Amid The Anthem Debate, A Dallas Cowboys Fan Gives Tickets Away To Teens And Cops

Dec 23, 2017
Originally published on December 23, 2017 7:04 pm

It's two hours from game time in Lot J across from the Cowboys' stadium, in Arlington, Texas. Andrew Brown, a 43-year-old IT executive, is surrounded by friends at his favorite tailgate spot — he's brought Frito pie, the grill's hot and the generator is humming.

Brown introduces three guests: High school juniors La'Dettrick Tyson and Bryan Baldomero and Dallas County Deputy Sheriff Claiborne Fountain.

Brown's here because they are – because he brought them here. And he almost didn't. Brown, a Cowboy's fan since he was three years old and a season ticket holder, almost boycotted every game because he doesn't like how the NFL treated players who kneel during the national anthem. The divisive conflict began last year, when then 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee, and intensified this year — and Brown about had it.

But instead of staying home, Brown's been giving his tickets away to high school students and law enforcement officers.

"You've got this narrative over here saying 'All cops are bad killing black people' and you got these people over here saying 'We need police officers, black people need to stop doing criminal things,' " Brown says. "Instead of having those conversations, how do we change the narrative? How do we change the perception?"

In Brown's game plan, you put together who he considers the most vulnerable players in this conflict: kids and cops. Then, you start a conversation. But at a football game?

"Well, you have to start somewhere," Sheriff Fountain says. "There needs to be a dialogue. There needs to be communication. And communication is key. If there's something going on that you don't understand, you can't move forward. But once you sit and talk and there's a line of communication opened up, it starts to move forward."

Both Bryan and La'Dettrick, who attend Bryan Adams High School, said they don't have any negative feelings toward police officers.

La'Dettrick, who is black, says his worried mom has talked to him about interacting with police officers as a person of color.

"She thinks a cop will shoot me or shoot somebody in my family one day, I don't know," he says. "She was like, 'Treat them with much respect, don't do too much moving and all that,' so they don't think I'm drawing a weapon or anything."

Bryan says he's always gotten along with police officers.

"When I see a cop I don't think of it as a negative thing," he says. "Cause they're here to protect and serve us. So if you don't got nothing to hide, then you shouldn't really feel bad about it."

Brown doesn't just want to build bridges at football games. He and his friends have created a non-profit, the Stand N The Gap Foundation, that's designed to bring people together to focus on solutions that promote freedom, justice and equality. April Allen, one of Brown's tailgating friends has contributed to the foundation.

"I think that it will be a success because in the end, the boys are seeing policemen as real people and not people that are trying to hurt them or come after them," she says.

As a kid growing up in Florida, Brown says police lived in his poor neighborhood. They played basketball together. There was a semblance of mutual respect and understanding. In Texas, Brown's hoping to recreate that feeling. He says he wishes NFL team owners had thought of it first.

"These owners are men who own stadiums filled with seats," he says. "And if they had just taken a step back — instead of fostering the hateful narrative that's out there — they could have led entire communities in a different direction by putting officers and kids from these neighborhoods in seats together."

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Dallas Cowboys play what might be their last home game of the season tomorrow. For season ticket holder Andrew Brown, it's been a long season. He doesn't like how the NFL has treated players who kneel during the national anthem. They've been protesting police brutality. He was so angry at the NFL's reaction, he almost boycotted every game, but then he decided to give his tickets away to high-school students and law enforcement officers. As Bill Zeeble with member station KERA reports, Brown hopes that the gift builds understanding.

BILL ZEEBLE, BYLINE: It's two hours from game time in Lot J across from the Cowboys stadium in Arlington, Texas. This is IT executive Andrew Brown's favorite tailgate spot. His friends gather here. He brought Frito pie. The grill's hot, and the generator's humming. Forty-three-year-old Brown, who's been a Cowboys fan since he was three, introduces his guests, Bryan Adams High School juniors La’Dettrick Tyson, Bryan Baldomero and Dallas County Deputy Sheriff Claiborne Fountain.

ANDREW BROWN: How's it going?

CLAIBORNE FOUNTAIN: It's going good.

BROWN: Tyson and Bryan.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Tyson and Bryan?

FOUNTAIN: How you doing?

LA’DETTRICK TYSON: What's going on, Bryan? Welcome, man.

BROWN: This is Officer Fountain.

ZEEBLE: Brown's here because they are because he brought them here. He almost didn't. The divisive conflict begun last year by then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick intensified this year, and Brown about had it.

BROWN: You got this narrative over here, saying all cops are bad, killing black people. And you've got these people over here, saying, we need police officers. Black people need to stop doing criminal things. Instead of having those conversations, how do we change the narrative? How do we change the perception?

ZEEBLE: In Brown's game plan, you put what he considers the most vulnerable players in this conflict together - kids and cops. Is a game the right place for a conversation?

FOUNTAIN: Well, you have to start somewhere. There needs to be a dialogue. And there needs to be communication. And communication is key.

ZEEBLE: That's Deputy Sheriff Claiborne Fountain.

FOUNTAIN: If there's something going on that you don't understand, you can't move forward. But once you sit down, and you talk, and there's a line of communication opened up, it starts to move things forward.

ZEEBLE: Students Bryan and La’Dettrick only want to talk about food for now. As they are offered some chili and chicken, Bryan says he's always gotten along with officers.

BRYAN BALDOMERO: When I see a cop, I don't think of it as a negative thing because they're here to protect and serve us. So if we don't got nothing to hide, then you shouldn't really feel bad about it. So when I see them, I don't really have any negative feelings towards them.

ZEEBLE: La’Dettrick doesn't have any negative feelings toward police, either. Still, he's an African-American teen, so he says his worried mother talked to him about growing up as a person of color.

TYSON: She think a cop going to shoot me or shoot somebody in my family one day. I don't know. She was like, just treat them with much respect. Don't do too much movement and all of that, so they don't think I'm drawing a weapon or anything.

ZEEBLE: With kickoff approaching, the kids and sheriff head into the stadium.

(CHEERING)

ZEEBLE: Andrew Brown doesn't just want to build bridges at football games. He and his friends have created a non-profit - the Stand N the Gap Foundation - that's designed to bring people together to, as its website says, focus on solutions that promote freedom, justice and equality. April Allen, one of Brown's tailgating friends, has contributed to the foundation.

APRIL ALLEN: I think that it will be a success because in the end, the boys are seeing policemen as real people and not people that are trying to hurt them or come after them.

ZEEBLE: That's Brown's hope. As a kid growing up in Florida, he says police also lived in his poor neighborhood. They played basketball together. There was a semblance of mutual respect and understanding. In Texas, Brown's hoping to recreate that feeling. He only wishes NFL team owners had thought of it first.

BROWN: These owners are men who own stadiums filled with seats. And if they had just taken a step back instead of fostering the hateful narrative that's out there, they could've led entire communities in a different direction by putting officers and kids from these neighborhoods in seats together.

ZEEBLE: For Andrew Brown, bringing them together to build relationships one game at a time - that's a winning narrative. For NPR News, I'm Bill Zeeble in Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF TROMBONE SHORTY'S "FANFARE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.