"Like We Were Dogs": The Story of Ryan Moats

04/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Dave Zirin Sports correspondent, The Nation Magazine

The first time Ryan Moats touched a football in an NFL game he ran it
40-yards for a touchdown. That was part of an 11-carry 114-yard debut
for the Philadelphia Eagles rookie. Currently, Moats plays for the
Houston Texans in the football mad Lone Star State. This would seem to
be a charmed life. But none of that protected Moats from one of the
uglier cases of DWB (driving while black) that's come across the
wires. Moats' money and fame couldn't insulate him. A police dashboard
video camera, however, recorded the ugly interaction shedding light on
a practice all too common in these United States.

Moats was rushing, hazard lights on, with his wife, Tamishia and her
family to the Baylor Regional Medical Center. Tamishia's mother,
Joanetta Collinsworth, was dying from advanced breast cancer, and the
hospital put out the word that they had to get to her bedside right
away if they wanted to say good bye. But then their lives collided
with the 25-year-old Powell, and the Moats family ordeal became
something more than a personal tragedy.

Powell pulled the Moats family over in the hospital parking lot for
rolling through a red light. Tamishia jumped out of the car to rush to
her mother and Powell drew his gun, yelling, "Get in there! Let me
see your hands!"

"My mom is dying," she shouted back.

"I saw in his eyes that he really did not care," Tamishia Moats said.
Ms. Moats and her great-aunt ignored the officer and headed into the
hospital. (Powell says he "merely" drew his gun, while Ms. Moats says
it was pointed at her as she rushed in the facility. Ryan Moats has
said that he feared for her life.)

Ryan Moats and his grandfather in law - the father of the dying Ms.
Collinsworth, were then kept for 13 minutes.

"You really want to go through this right now?" Moats pleaded. "My
mother-in-law is dying. Right now!"

The response was the threat of arrest. "I can screw you over. I would
rather not do that. You obviously will dictate everything that
happens; and right now, your attitude sucks."

Moats tried to explain why he rolled through a red light:
"I waited until no traffic was coming. I got seconds before she's
gone, man." Powell responded with a demand for a license,
registration, and proof of insurance.

Moats began to lose patience and said, "Just give me a ticket or whatever."
"Shut your mouth," Powell told him. "You can cooperate and settle
down, or I can just take you to jail for running a red light."

After Moats urged him to hurry up so he could be there with his wife,
Powell - in a slow cadence - spoke down to Moats like he was a
toddler. "If you want to keep this going, I'll just put you in
handcuffs," Powell said, "and I'll take you to jail for running a red

Moats began to say "Yes sir" repeatedly, clearly trying to be done
with the Officer.

But Powell wasn't done. "Understand what I can do," he continued. "I
can tow your truck. I can charge you with fleeing. I can make your
night very difficult."

"I understand," Moats responded. "I hope you'll be a great person and
not do that."

As this is taking place, hospital security guards rushed to the scene
to tell Powell that Ms. Collinsworth was on death's door.

Powell ignored them, wasting several more minutes checking Moats for
arrest warrants. Then a nurse ran to the car insisting that the Moats
family be allowed inside.

"Hey, that's the nurse," another officer can be heard telling Powell.
"She said that the mom's dying right now, and she's wanting to know if
they can get him up there before she dies."

All right," Powell replied. "I'm almost done."

After several more minutes, Moats and the father of Jonetta
Collinsworth, then ran inside, but unlike Ms. Moats, did not make it
to Ms. Collinsworth's bedside in time to say goodbye.

The furor generated by the videotape has led Powell to be reassigned
and the ticket to be dismissed. Police spokesperson Lt. Andy Harvey
said, "There were some things that were said that were disturbing, to
say the least."

This wasn't the first "high profile arrest" for Powell. In 2008, he
placed Maritza Thomas, the wife of former Dallas Cowboy linebacker
Zach Thomas in cuffs and then prison for three hours. The crime: an
illegal u-turn. "This in no way compares to what happened to Ryan
Moats and his family," Zach Thomas told The Dallas Morning News. "But
we wanted to tell our story, not knowing how many others have been
affected by Officer Powell...."

Moats said after the fact, "For him to not even be sympathetic at all,
and basically we're dogs or something and we don't matter -- it
shocked me," he said.

It is shocking, but it isn't rare.

According to the most recent Justice Department report, Blacks were
almost three times as likely as whites to be searched at a traffic
stop. They were also twice as likely to be arrested, and almost four
times as likely to be the victim of "excessive force."

This is also the latest of a series of high profile confrontations
between cops and jocks.

When you layer the "driving while black" pandemic on top of the
dynamic of pro athletes more comfortable on a pedestal than in a
police car, you have a recipe for future tragedies. Let the Moats'
ordeal serve as a warning and not a harbinger. And let Officer Powell
be compelled to find another line of work.

[Dave Zirin is the author of "A People's History of Sports in the
United States" (The New Press) Receive his column every week by
emailing Contact him at]