Bandanna issue is one the NFL will not tackle

September 10, 1995|By Bill Plaschke | Bill Plaschke,Los Angeles Times

One of the greatest athletes in the NFL wears one. So do gunmen for street gangs.

Linemen who do nothing worse than fish without a license wear them. So do drug dealers and pimps.

Deion Sanders shrugs and calls it "a little scarf." That teen-aged hood on the street corner calls it a "G-Rag."

Which is short for "gangster rag."

Which, for thousands of inner-city youths and adults who mold them, symbolizes nothing but trouble. So what is the NFL to do?

Last spring, after receiving many complaints from high school coaches and community leaders about the poor example being set, league officials considered banning bandannas from the field. But since then, behind closed doors, NFL Properties has had a change of heart. It has licensed a retailer to sell G-rags.

"A lot of people look at the bandannas like a gang symbol," said Garfield (Los Angeles) High football Coach John Aguirre. "Certain color bandannas symbolize certain things. It's naive to think anything else."

Sanders disagrees.

"I think to ban [bandannas] would be racist," said Sanders, the most notable of the league's several dozen bandanna wearers. "It would be a decision made by somebody who doesn't understand what is going on."

But the league's point man in the initial effort to ban the rag was Gene Washington, director of football development and a former player who knows exactly what is happening.

"For prominent black men in this country, image is very important. . . . It may not be fair, but it's reality," Washington said last spring. "The image that the bandannas project is not a good one."

Said Sanders: "I don't wear mine because I'm a gang member. I wear it because it gives me an attitude."

Washington, one of the league's highest ranking African Americans, was forced to soften his tone after the players' association reported that it would be opposed to the ban.

Worried about being perceived as racist, the league's owners backed down.

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