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Save your thug life for home

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© St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2001

Allen Iverson walked into the interview room after Game 2 of the Philadelphia-Indiana playoff series wearing a Georgetown cap with the brim turned slightly to the side, a baby blue do-rag underneath and a gaudy silver necklace.

He wore a white short-sleeved shirt, so you could see the tattoos that cover his arms. He talked like he had a sore throat for six months.

It reminded me of the time I saw him two years ago after a Magic-Sixers playoff game. He had the same look -- the flashy jewelry, the do-rag, etc.

I thought the same thing each time.

Allen Iverson is a thug.

That might sound like an insult, but in Iverson's world, it practically is a compliment, a statement of the obvious. The 76ers star is part of the hip-hop culture that embraces the thug image. To people like him, being a thug is acceptable. Actually, it's downright cool.

Suffice to say, standing in front of a room of reporters and NBA officials the other night, Iverson wasn't the least bit embarrassed by the way he was dressed. That's fine because I was embarrassed for him.

Tell me. When are people like Iverson going to get on the clue bus? Obviously, they just don't get it.

Why can't athletes like Iverson (trust me, he isn't the only one) understand the thug image that's so popular among young people, especially young African-Americans, is poisoning the minds of our youth?

Why can't they see what thug life embraces -- excessive wealth, gaudy jewelry, flashy cars, degradation of women -- isn't what we should want our youth to aspire to?

Why can't they accept that millions of children watch them during those post-game interviews and yearn to be just like what they see?

Granted, this is an unfair burden to place on Iverson and other athletes. They should be able to dress any way they like during interviews and public appearances. They shouldn't be held responsible for the attitudes and values of our youth.

I should be able to wear my hair in cornrows and have it not affect my chances of landing a job, but we all know that's not reality. No, the reality is, young people are impressionable, especially when it comes to athletes.

Too many kids are being raised in households where little or no emphasis is placed on education, morals and decency. Too many are being raised in affluent households where parents are preoccupied with their Fortune 500 careers and summer homes in the Hamptons to make sure their children have proper role models.

Iverson probably has spent more time in the 'hood than you and I. He, more so than anyone else, ought to know the hopelessness that breeds there, and how it can make you vulnerable to the get-rich-quick lure of thug life. He, more than anyone else, ought to understand how the thug image he is endorsing -- intentionally or unintentionally -- is not helping the problem, but rather making it worse.

At best, Iverson is sending mixed signals. He has a Philadelphia-based foundation that benefits urban youths, and he often speaks to inner-city youth groups about the importance of education and always doing the right thing.

But his thug-life image is telling our youth just the opposite. Thug life doesn't look at going to class regularly and making good grades as cool things. Thug life is all about drinking excessively, smoking weed and generally being irresponsible.

And when Iverson and other athletes perpetuate that image by the way they dress and act, they are essentially promoting those things.

Look, why can't Iverson and others put aside their personal clothing style during interviews, especially interview sessions that likely will get national play? We're talking 15 minutes, tops.

A suit would be perfect (Did you see the dark blue one Reggie Miller wore during interviews?), but a nice shirt and some casual pants would do the trick.

Then, when he's not playing basketball, if he wants to wear his cap sideways over his do-rag and drape himself in gold medallions big enough to choke a horse, it's okay by me.

All we're talking about here is being a little responsible for 15 lousy minutes, not changing the fabric of anyone's true self. Surely, Iverson and others can understand that.

I mean, if he wants to abandon the real world to live the thug life, that's fine. I just don't want him dragging our youth with him.

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