“When a kid comes up and says I coached him, or saved him, that’s the biggest thrill in the world,” says Snoop Dogg. “I would give up rapping all day to be a football coach.”
In 2005, inspired in part by his pigskin-loving sons — his youngest Cordell was recruited to play at the University of California Los Angeles — the rap icon founded the Snoop Youth Football League (SYFL) to help kids avoid the gangbanger life on the streets that nearly derailed his own music career.?
“We went on a mission to try to stop the violence by going to the roughest neighborhoods and grabbing these kids, coaches and ex-gang members and throwing them in the fire and saying, ‘This is what we want to do,’ ” says Snoop from his office/studio complex in Inglewood, Calif.
The SYFL is now the largest youth football organization in Southern California, boasting 50 teams with more than 1,500 players and 75 cheerleaders. With an emphasis on teamwork, sportsmanship and discipline — and strict academic guidelines — the SYFL is now looking beyond Snoop’s home turf: In the last two years, the league has expanded into Northern California and Texas, boosting the total player and cheerleader counts to 5,000 and 750, respectively.
And some of them can really play: 38 grads are currently NCAA Division 1 athletes, and in February, then-Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman became the first SYFL alumnus with a Super Bowl ring. “It helped save my life,” says Hillman, who’s now with the Minnesota Vikings, “and gave me a head start on knowing I could make it.”
For Snoop, though, giving back is more than spending his free days coaching. The rapper hosts annual turkey drives around Los Angeles and regularly travels to Jamaica, where the Mind Gardens project helps feed impoverished children by planting community plots. “I don’t even look at this as philanthropy,” says Snoop, who cites Muhammad Ali as his role model in that arena. “It’s just what I love to do: help.”
To learn about clinics, cheerleading and other ways to participate in the SYFL, go to snoopyfl.net.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 5 issue of Billboard.