David Dorsey Scores with
'Fourth Down in Dunbar'

by William Levy

“I wanted to show people
across the country the
contributions that Dunbar
and Fort Myers have made
to the NFL. I think
sometimes Dunbar gets
a bad rap and I hope
this shows just how
supportive and encouraging
they can be.”

NFL players who grew up
in Dunbar include
Deion Sanders,
Jevon Kearse,
Phillip Buchanon,
Earnest Graham,
Mario Henderson,
and Anthony Ascends.

DAVID DORSEY WAS all smiles when discussing his new book, Fourth Down in Dunbar. The book explains how high school boys in the Fort Myers neighborhood of Dunbar, a neighborhood where drugs and crime are prevalent, have a difficult time building a productive life. To make things even more difficult, many of the boys were raised without a father.

“I’m very happy,” Dorsey said. “Many of the stores [where the books are sold] are telling us they can’t keep it in stock. It has been a tremendous success. They need to keep reordering it.”

Part of the book’s success stems from the author himself. While many authors have attempted to write a book in an area that they are not familiar with (such as Buzz Bissinger, who while a reporter in Philadelphia, spent a year in Odessa, Texas to compile information for Friday Night Lights, that is not the case with Dorsey. As a sports reporter for the Southwest Florida’s News-Press, Dorsey has been a familiar face on the sidelines of high school football games for nearly two decades.

“The difference between me [and other authors] is that I’ve been a part of this community,” he said. “While I didn’t know everything, there was a familiarity I had.”

Dorsey said one of the things he enjoyed most about writing the book was being able to interact with not only the players, but family members, friends and others who influenced their lives.

Nearly two dozen players from Dunbar have played in the National Football League. Dorsey describes the environment they grew up in. While some things have stayed the same in some respects over the years, other things have changed with desegregation, which ultimately closed Dunbar High School for a time until a new one opened in 2000. There was not a lot of commerce in the area, while the drug trade thrived. The unemployment rate was significantly higher than other parts of the county, while wages were lower. With the racial makeup of the area virtually unchanged for about 60 years, Dorsey writes about about how many of players had few African-American role models to look up to.

In large part due to those factors, as well as the area’s location, it became an area known for drugs. It also produced many NFL football players such as Deion Sanders, Jevon Kearse, Phillip Buchanon, Earnest Graham, Mario Henderson, and Anthony Ascends. The community is aware of this and that was not lost on Dorsey. He devotes an entire chapter to Drew Rosenhaus, a prominent NFL agent, who spoke at a summer camp in nearby Immokalee, where hundreds of kids from Dunbar had attended. While Rosenhaus pointed out the amount of money NFL players could make, which excited the kids, Dorsey notes that a very small percentage of athletes will actually make the NFL.

“The idea was not to get people that read the book thinking they can make the NFL,” Dorsey explains.

Many people in Dunbar have turned to drugs and Dorsey hammers this point time and time again. One of the book’s key chapters is centered in an interview with Ronnie Tape. Despite having a promising career as a musician, where he would often fly back and forth to Fort Myers from Los Angeles, he got caught up in the drug trade and became a well-known dealer in the area. Tape relates in the book that he was hoping to be able to help develop more business opportunities in Dunbar, but utimately was arrested. Tape was in prison when Dorsey interviewed him. “Getting an interview with Ronnie Tape was my biggest challenge,” Dorsey said. “I would not have been able to write the book the way I wanted to without it.”

This was an importatnt chapter. It illustrates just how easy it is to get involved with drugs. Dorsey notes that if some of the drug dealers knew that a kid had a chance to be a great football player, then the dealers themselves would steer tthe athletes away from drugs.

While there is mention of players whose careers were derailed by time in prison, a good part of the book features the stories of NFL players from Dunbar and describes the challenges they faced. Deion Sanders, who went on to make the NFL Hall of Fame, was the self-described ‘Jackie Robinson’ of some of his youth sports leagues, as his mom saw to it that he got the best coaching available, which often meant playing in predominately white leagues. Sanders also had to endure long bus rides because desegregation forced him to attend North Fort Myers High School. But he focused on his athletics and did not succumb to temptations that many of his peers did.

In the case of Jevon Kearse, Dorsey relates how Kearse overcame much personal tragedy, which included the murder of his father and other family members, and had to take over as head of the household.
There is also the story of Anthony Ascends, who played at the University of South Florida and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was his close relationship with his mom that prevented him from getting involved with drugs.

“There are a number of things that have to fall their way [for players to make it to the NFL],” says Dorsey, when asked if there was a common theme for players making it to the pros. “They have to have athletic ability, but they also to have the love and support of people, and many times it’s the mother.”

In the chapter ‘Being Earnest,’ Dorsey details how while Earnest Graham made it to the NFL, his younger brother Brandon was not able to escape the drug culture and spent time in prison.

The reader also is reminded that in addition to the negative forces boys must overcome from residing in the Dunbar area, they also have to overcome many of the same obstacles as any other young boy. This was pointed out in the chapter on Mario Henderson, who despite having weight issues in high school still made the NFL.

Fourth Down in Dunbar is sure to be enjoyed by a wide variety of people. Besides relating to the local high school football fan, Dorsey connects to the greater Fort Myers community, constantly referencing various streets, schools and locations, putting his reader right there with him as he is telling the story. The book will also be of interest to sports fans everywhere, as he describes the stories of so many players reaching the NFL from such a small area. It will also interest readers everywhere with the stories of people overcoming hardships and tragedies to achieve great success, as well as cautionary tales of lives wasted and lost to drug abuse and criminality.

“I wanted to do a couple of things [when writing the book],” Dorsey confesses. “I wanted to show people across the country the contributions that Dunbar and Fort Myers have made to the NFL. I think sometimes Dunbar gets a bad rap and I hope this shows just how supportive and encouraging they can be.”

He also hopes people will see just what the title Fourth Down In Dunbar means.

“When you get to fourth down, it is often a desperate and urgent situation,” Dorsey says. “It’s OK to punt if you need to. That’s better than going down the drugs path. I want people to see how Earnest Graham returned back to the area as an insurance salesman. I want people to know Mario Henderson is trying to get a job in the school system. It is just not about making the NFL.”

Dorsey adds that he would like to see the book developed into some sort of televison program, like ESPN’s ‘30 for 30,’ and/or a movie such as Friday Night Lights or The Blind Side. •

November-December 2014