SARASOTA -- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Sam Shields shot basketballs so people would stop shooting guns.
The two NFL defensive backs have had friends and loved ones die violently and wanted to make a statement at their Stop the Violence Celebrity basketball game Friday night at Booker High.
"I lost a brother and an uncle to the streets and violence, said Lakewood Ranch product and Denver Broncos cornerback, Rodgers-Cromartie.
Shields, a Booker alumnus and current Green Bay cornerback who started on the Packers 2011 Super Bowl championship team, said he also lost close ones to violence.
"This gives me an opportunity to do something pos
itive and some good and try to simmer that (violence) down," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "The message I am sending to the kids is that it's okay to put the guns down and pick up a book. A good book is the Bible. It's okay to go the school route. It's okay to be different."
With the Broncos pre-season camp opening Wednesday, Rodgers-Cromartie risked his $5 million contract by playing in the game. If he were to get hurt in a non-NFL event, the Broncos would not be obligated to pay him anything, but he said the game was worth the risk.
Coming on the heels of the emotional reaction to the Trayvon Martin verdict, Rodgers-Cromartie said this was the best way he knows to keep violent reactions down though other professional athletes have used Twitter to vent their anger at the verdict that acquitted George Zimmerman of murder.
"It's not my place to speak on that case," he said. "It's hard to stay out of it, but the main thing is to do stuff like this and keep them off the streets. We are here to promote stop the violence and have fun doing it."
Shields was also risking his contract, but said the cause was worth it and that he and Rodgers-Cromartie hope to make it an annual event. The game, pitting Manatee County athletes against Sarasota County athletes, had its inaugural event last year at a local recreation center. It was moved to Booker this year to accommodate the crowd that filled about three-quarters of the spacious gym.
"I have seen things like selling drugs, especially in my community and Bradenton, and the multiple killings each day are getting outrageous," Shields said. "We are trying to show the community you can find a way to live a positive life. Growing up, I had friends that went the wrong path. I had both my mom and dad in my life and that was a blessing. A lot of my friends didn't have that and they are either dead or in jail right now."
Shields said the numerous arrests of NFL players which has reached 38 so far in 2013 according to ArrestNation.com, was a case of people not using their heads and staying out of situations that would lead to trouble.
In regard to the Trayvon Martin case, Shields said, "Let God handle it. It was what it was -- not guilty -- and there is nothing we can do about it. Keep it in God's hand and move forward to stop the violence."
Some of the others suiting up for Manatee County included Lamont Houston, the point guard who led Southeast to the State Final Four in 2004.
"Growing up in Manatee County there was violence, now I think its worse. I grew up in Rodgers Project and it was rough. Some people made it out and some didn't," Houston said. "I played basketball and was fortunate to get a scholarship to college. Growing up you did one of two things, you played ball or you were in the streets. You couldn't balance that. You had to do one or the other; that is just the reality of it. The message tonight is it's possible for everybody to get along."
Joining Houston on the Manatee County team was Ricky Simmons, an '03 Manatee High grad who has been playing professional indoor football since 2008.
"The message I have is whatever you put your mind to just do it. Coming up in East Bradenton everyone sees that (selling drugs). Thanks to my family and God I went in the opposite direction," Simmons said.
The game was stopped with 2:53 left when two people in the stands got into a verbal argument after one spilled a drink on the other and did not apologize, Rodgers-Cromartie said.
"We took them outside and everything was okay. There were no arrests. We just decided it was best to end the game then because people were moving outside," Rodgers-Cromartie said.