(Photo: AP Photo/Joel Ryan)
CHICAGO (AP) — Rapper Snoop Dogg launched a Chicago version of his popular youth football league Saturday, saying he hoped the program will give kids in high-crime neighborhoods a positive release for their energy.
Dancing and high-fiving his way through a large crowd at the Chicago Indoor Sports Facility, the playful entertainer seemed intent on meeting all the kids involved in the inaugural season of the city's Snoop Youth Football League. Chicago's is a division of the league he established in Los Angeles in 2004.
Snoop Dogg spent most of his time interacting with the more than 100 football kids and fans, many whom waited several hours for his arrival.
"When I walked into the building, I felt the spirit," the rapper said of the loud welcome that included non-stop photo flashes. Obviously moved, Snoop Dogg smiled and danced as his songs played in the background.
He credited football, a sport he played growing up, with giving many kids in his California league the incentive to focus on their education and other aspects of their lives. He's hoping Chicago youth use the program to figure out what they want to do with their lives, and he's anxious to see how they respond.
"I want to give them something to fight for," he said of his intentions with the new league. "At the end of the day, they're our future."
The league in California has eight chapters with more than 3,000 participants. Chicago's league will have six chapters with more than 1,500 participants.
Snoop Dogg said the league prides itself on a strong support system, anchored by coaches and parents. "We're teaching life skills now," he said, referring to the program's more-than-football approach.
The rapper's also proud that his league isn't afraid to go into some of the most dangerous neighborhoods to reach the young people who live in them.
"We're going to the toughest areas," he said. "We're going to deal with them face to face."
Chicago's league starts in August and is open to youth ages 7 to 14.