Football stands as a beacon of hope for the ‘Warriors of Liberty City’

‘Warriors of Liberty City’ – Football as a means of betterment

“Warriors of Liberty City” premieres Sunday, Sept. 16, on Starz.

For many youths from impoverished neighborhoods, playing football or basketball represents “the way out” of the ghetto and into a college education and perhaps professional sports and a very comfortable living.

Liberty City, a crime-ridden neighborhood in North Miami, is one of those locales. It stands as arguably the NFL’s largest and most successful football factory, producing current or former players such as Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Devonta Freeman, Antonio Brown, Duke Johnson and Teddy Bridgewater. All came through a football program known as the Liberty City Warriors Optimist Club, a youth organization that sponsors sports teams, academic support and other activities, and it’s the subject of a documentary series premiering this week on Starz.

“Warriors of Liberty City,” a six-part series produced by LeBron James, Maverick Carter and Evan Rosenfeld and debuting Sunday, Sept. 16, follows the 2017 season with the Warriors and the program’s co-founder, hip-hop pioneer Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell, as they prepare for big games, struggle with the crime and poverty of their surroundings and simply deal with the challenges of adolescence.

“We take football as a tool to be able to take these kids to the next level, as far as going to college,” explains Campbell to a recent gathering of journalists in Beverly Hills, Calif. “99.1 percent of them won’t end up like Devonta Freeman or Lavonte David or Chad Johnson or anything like that, but they’ll have an opportunity to get a college degree. And with that college degree they can go on and do better things with themselves, as far as in the workplace and being providers for their families.”

The series also introduces viewers to rising stars such as Tutu Atwell, a quarterback who has committed to the University of Louisville, and the families who endured hardship and tragedy during the series’ filming.

“These kids are going through situations in schools, high schools,” Campbell says. “Just like say, they ain’t eating. I was coaching football the other day in Liberty City. Kid said, ‘I can’t practice, coach.’ ‘Why you can’t practice?’ ‘Because I don’t have underwear on.’ Go down, get him what he needs to get. Go to a house and you sit there and knock on the door, Mom answers. There’s a mattress and eight kids sleeping on that one mattress.  This s… is real.”

“When you look at America today,” he continues, “and how things that happening inside the African-American community is — you see it right here … .  Kids going to school, trying to get a better education, then not being able to get a better education because the playing field is not level.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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