By Alden Gonzalez, ESPN
Officer James Holliman likes to say — with a smile, not as a joke — that he quits every day. As a member of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Southeast Division, he has entrenched himself within a community of underprivileged children in Watts, a South Central L.A. neighborhood that stands among the most dangerous, gang-ridden areas in the country. Holliman originally signed on to help run a Pop Warner football program, but he and the small handful of police officers alongside him have become so much more than that.
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The Watts Bears began in 2012, one year after the LAPD launched its Community Safety Partnership program to help bridge the gap between police officers and their communities. Twenty-two kids signed up to play free football that first season. This year, the Watts coaches are expecting close to 100. The animosity directed toward cops by the people of Watts — a tension rooted in the infamous riots of 1965 — has begun to diminish. An entire calendar of events has been incorporated, including coed track and field in the spring and mentorship programs in the summer. Countless children who were once considered hopeless have begun to turn their lives around.
The Los Angeles Rams have been particularly drawn to the Watts Bears, enough so that they have decided to make them one of the major pillars of their philanthropic efforts. On Sunday, July 28, 2019 — after hosting the children, their parents and their coaches to a picnic at the beach and a visit to training camp — the team will announce an immersive partnership that will turn the Watts Bears into the Watts Rams, the culmination of a relationship that began more than two years ago.
The Rams will fund every component of the Watts football program, including uniforms and equipment. They will host a career seminar and monthly engagement programs. Players and coaches will visit children who are in search of role models; tickets and autographs will be dangled as incentives for good behavior. In short, the Rams promise to be a constant resource.