Juarez violence sparks Sun Bowl fears for OU fans

By Jake Trotter Modified: December 17, 2009 at 1:06 am •  Published: December 17, 2009
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photo - Residents wait for news on the periphery of a crime scene in this Nov. 19 photo, while a police officer and a soldier stand guard in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Two women and one man were killed by gunmen at a bar, police said. AP Photo
Residents wait for news on the periphery of a crime scene in this Nov. 19 photo, while a police officer and a soldier stand guard in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Two women and one man were killed by gunmen at a bar, police said. AP Photo
Hollywood hasn’t given El Paso, Texas, the most flattering of depictions.

In "Kill Bill,” Uma Thurman’s wedding party is slaughtered while she is left for dead in an El Paso chapel. At the end of "No Country for Old Men,” Josh Brolin is shot and killed, presumably by members of a Mexican drug cartel, outside his motel room in El Paso.

In Ciudad Juarez, located just across the Mexican border from El Paso, scenes like those are hardly far-fetched. In a vicious turf battle prompted by the Mexican government’s attempt to wipe out the drug cartels, Ciudad Juarez is at the heart of the conflict and the violence. This year alone, nearly 2,500 people have been killed in what’s become the murder capital of the world, according to the El Paso Times.

"To see the lawlessness over there is very sad,” El Paso Mayor John Cook said.

But Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, separated only by the Rio Grande and a couple of border checkpoints, are worlds apart.

Despite its movie reputation, El Paso — home of the Sun Bowl where the University of Oklahoma will play Stanford on New Year’s Eve — remains one of the safest cities in the United States.

Just last month, one study declared El Paso the second-safest big city in the country, trailing only Honolulu, according to the El Paso Times.

Yet many Sooner fans who annually travel to OU’s bowl games are sitting this one out. And concerns about safety are playing a role.

On a NewsOK.com online poll, almost half of the more than 800 respondents who aren’t going to the Sun Bowl noted their reasoning was they don’t feel safe with all the violence happening across the border from El Paso.

"Juarez has the highest murder rate in the world,” said Edmond resident Craig Blankenship, who has traveled to the last 10 OU bowl games with a group of about 20 family and friends. "We’re not interested in El Paso. We will stay at home and watch it on the tube.”

Blankenship is not alone. Thousands of tickets in the 50,429-seat Sun Bowl Stadium remain unsold, despite a charity drive by the university to have fans purchase tickets for troops stationed at El Paso’s Fort Bliss.

Many of OU’s players share a similar apprehension about how safe they’ll be in El Paso.

"They said there’s something going on across the border right there, that it’s not safe,” senior cornerback Brian Jackson said.

"They should have moved the bowl game. It’s the well-being. You’ve got to think about our well-being first, don’t you?”

But Cook wants Jackson and the rest of Sooner Nation to know they’ll be safe in his city, which has successfully prevented the violence of Ciudad Juarez from spilling into El Paso.

"On this side of the border, we have very little criminal activity,” Cook said. "There’s very little tolerance to crime in El Paso.