Snoop Dogg changes the game

Snoop Dogg is changing Southern California football. Mathieu Young for ESPN The Magazine

This story appears in the January 10, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

The high school coach watches with a mixture of irritation and amusement as the men in Snoop's security detail take their positions. Gates are closed, entrances secured, driveways cleared. Al, the head of security, relays the latest to his colleagues: "One mile out." The security troops are wearing Secret Service-style earpieces, and upon hearing Al's news, one of the men -- quite possibly the largest and least approachable human on the planet -- walks slowly to a gate near the north end of the Crenshaw High football field on a cloudless, late-fall Saturday afternoon in South Central LA.

Snoop has turned the corner.

The security men roll their necks and furrow their brows in anticipation.

Snoop is within sight.

The big man stands up straight and puts a hand on the gate.

For this one moment, all worldly matters are secondary to the process of getting the man in the vintage green Cadillac -- known as the Snoop DeVille -- into a parking space. Despite Crenshaw's ominous coordinates in the annals of Hood America, there are no visible threats around, just a bunch of prepubescent boys in pads and helmets trying to walk in cleats from the parking lot to the field without slipping or toppling over.

But the men with the earpieces are dealing with the kind of fame that can't afford to take chances.

And besides, this is Semifinal Saturday in the Snoop Youth Football League. All day long, kids, parents and coaches come and go, every two hours another pair of teams shuffling into the stadium as two other teams leave. At stake for all six age groups: trips to the SYFL's Super Bowl VI.

Snoop is arriving to coach a group of these boys, the undefeated junior midget Pomona Steelers, against the Crenshaw Colts. His son Cordell, a tall, strong-looking 13-year-old wearing black Snoop Dogg signature Skullcrushers headphones as he stretches, is a wideout/defensive lineman and one of the Steelers' better players.

Snoop is a hero here, not just for his rap-and-Hollywood fame but for founding and funding a league that gives roughly 3,500 kids in some of the nation's most notorious neighborhoods (Watts, Compton, South Central) a place to play football. Age groups range from the Future League (5 and 6) to Junior Midget (12 and 13). For $100 a season -- waived or picked up by benefactors in cases of hardship -- a kid can join a team in the six-year-old Snoop league. And this year, if he is good enough, a Junior Midget can play 13 games here, then fly to Dallas as one of the Snoop All-Stars to play the Deion Sanders All-Stars in the Snoop Bowl.

Yeah, try to beat that.