The pain will never go away for players in the state of Delaware. I have been there too.

At first, Pamella Jenkins, the head women’s lacrosse coach at Delaware State University, was unconcerned when Georgia sheriff’s deputies pulled over her team’s bus.

His team, about 70 percent black and representing a historically black university with roots dating back to the 1890s, had been enjoying the drive home after playing in a tournament in Florida. They weren’t doing anything wrong. The team’s chartered bus was not accelerating as it headed north on Interstate 95. It made sense when he heard an officer tell the driver that he had the bus in the left lane and he needed to be in the right lane.

But it wasn’t long before the mood changed in a way that feels all too familiar, a mood that I identify with as an African-American who once played college sports and cruised the same Georgia interstates while competing. at the lower levels of professional tennis.

Suddenly, Jenkins’ team was accused of having drugs on board. More deputies arrived. A drug-sniffing dog was circling. Jenkins, who is black, shared the athlete’s feelings for her: shock, fear, anger and frustration.

Credit…via YouTube

Video footage, contradicting the sheriff’s account of the stop, shows a group of white officers going through luggage. One of them took a package and asked who it was from. When the player replied that it was hers and that she did not know what was inside it because it was a gift from her family, the deputy received her with suspicion. Jenkins said the agent found nothing but a jewelry box inside.

“I’m sitting there and trying to stay calm, but right now I’m very upset and scared and frustrated about what’s happening to us,” Jenkins said of the April 20 incident in a phone interview Tuesday. week.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “these situations can escalate.” And then the worst can happen. So she led by example and kept her stress a secret. His athletes did the same.

Deputies found no drugs. The driver, who unsurprisingly turned out to be black, did not receive a traffic ticket. An officer came aboard and said the team was free to go.

Think about what they went through.

Think of all the black athletes who crisscross the United States to compete, from youth basketball and soccer teams to college players. Some travel alone. Some with equipment. Some in small groups. If you think fear of encounters like this isn’t part of the mix, think again.

I have my own stories. If you’ve read my columns for a while, you may know that I was once a serious tennis player, one of the few nationally ranked young black men in the 1980s: a starter on a top team at the University of California,Berkeley. . After college, I played minor league professional tennis for a few years, traveling to all corners of the United States and much of the world.

The police profiled me after playing in one such tournament in the early 1990s, when another black player and I reached the doubles final at an all-white country club in Birmingham, Alabama. To say that we were an amazing sight for the club members, and the all-black field team that cheered us on at every match, would be the mother of all understatements. We lost, but we were jubilant. We made a statement by going as far as we did.

But as we drove our rental car to the next event, which was to be held in Augusta, Georgia, we were stopped by a highway patrolman on the rural stretch between Birmingham and Atlanta. I remember his wide-brimmed hat and his invasive interrogation. What were we doing in this car? Where were we going? The next thing I knew, he was going through our bags.

Why did they stop and search us? My partner had been driving well within the flow of traffic. We were just two young black men in a shiny rental. It didn’t help when the patrolman asked for our identification and saw that we were from California.

It’s been three decades, so I don’t remember all the details about what happened next, but somehow the officer dragged my partner to the local police station in a small town. About an hour later, my partner left. As far as I remember, he didn’t even get a ticket. He was unharmed but shocked. I drove the rest of the way.

That was not the only time I was profiled during my brief time in the basement of professional tennis. The worst case was in Europe in 1992, when I traveled from Paris to London after playing in France. At London Heathrow airport, customs officers pulled me out of the queue and started asking direct questions.

They asked me, sternly and accusingly, why I was in Europe playing tennis. Prove it, they said.

I stood helpless next to them as they rifled through my tennis bags. They found clothes, rackets, and my diary, which they read with apparently voyeuristic interest. They then took me to a windowless room and left me there without saying when they would be back. He was not alone in that room. I was with a dozen black travelers from African countries.

I sat for an hour, then two, then three. After eight hours of confinement, a guard came in and let me go. He never apologized.

There is an unseen burden that blacks carry long after such encounters. He is a shroud. You question yourself. “What just happened? Did I do something wrong?” You struggle to make sense of what just happened. “Was that officer, that mall security guard, that customs agent, was he really just doing his job? Or was I treated this way because of the color of my skin?

Uncertainty is its own terror.

We are left with doubt, anger and tears. We become well versed in bottling up emotions deep down and moving on. Or at least we try. .

And now, through no fault of their own, young Delaware state lacrosse players must deal with this kind of pain.

After the stop, Jenkins said, the drive home was unusually quiet and even somber. The shock does that.

The full force of the incident didn’t hit for days, until a player wrote a story about it in the campus newspaper and word of what happened began to spread.

“It was re-traumatizing again, reliving everything,” Jenkins said. “And that’s when we realised, ‘Wow, this was really bad.'”

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