Modern times dictate that the politics of sports talk, black talk, church talk, salon talk, school talk, any talk, must broach this topic.
This topic, or rather this person, has been a symbol of modern-day martyrdom, mistreatment incarnate. He’s the pride of Newport News, Va., put Virginia Tech on the map for Gen Y’ers, and was the first pick of the draft for the then-moribund Atlanta Falcons in 2001.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…unless a rock has been your world for the last three years, you know who I’m talking about. Michael Dwayne Vick has no shortage of followers. As a result, PETA and the Falcons are not lacking for enemies. Things are likely to stay that way for a while.
Vick has that effect on people. It’s easy to spot out members of the Cult of Vick. Just talk to anybody with a high amount of melanin about his plight.
It’s just dogs, man.
People can’t stand to see a black man with power.
What a waste of taxpayer money.
PETA can eat a d—.
These are actual responses that entered into the eardrum of yours truly. While it’s funny to see this type of passion exhibited about anybody except Jesus and Satan, it’s also quite alarming, especially considering the guy being defended.
This isn’t a polemic against Vick. The man has served his debt to society and deserves to play football again. But his track to redemption is not confined to the gridiron, which is what many would have us to believe. Athletes rise and fall every week. The decline of a star is as commonplace as the smell of coffee in an accountant’s cubicle. What makes this ordeal so stark is the star power of the athlete and the force of opposition.
Recently, Cleveland Browns’ receiver Donte’ Stallworth hit a man with his car after driving home one night in Miami. The man died, Stallworth pled guilty, was sentenced to 30 days in jail and suspended for a year without pay by the NFL.
The outrage from Vick supporters is obvious: How can a drunk athlete who killed a man receive less than a month of jail time when a dog-fighting athlete receive almost two years of incarceration?
Other sects of the Earth notwithstanding, it’s safe to say that Black America took the Vick downfall the hardest. And when it comes to blacks, anger can be diverse. Now, the venom’s scope includes Stallworth, next to PETA and the Falcons.
“Human life is worth more than a dog’s life,” so goes the common refrain. When it comes to Vick, however, that’s missing the point. The two cases couldn’t be more different, yet people are willing to pillory one black person (Stallworth) to exonerate another (Vick).
There goes the race argument.
Vick represented access and visibility into a world largely unknown to African-Americans: the quarterback position. There are other black quarterbacks in NFL lore, but none more exciting or profitable for the NFL than No. 7. Consequently, his peccadilloes went ignored, sins hidden to the general public and responsibilities skirted.
Accountability, a word commonly evoked by the right-wingers of the nation, was almost non-existent when it came to Vick. In the conversations I’ve had with colleagues about this subject – millions, and counting – nobody actually acknowledged the actual heinous nature of hanging, electrocuting, drowning, shooting and strangling canines.
If your neighbor down the street did these things, you would think twice about that guy. When a top-notch athlete forms a business doing these things, people think twice about stating the obvious: Michael Vick had some issues.
This doesn’t take into account his other missteps with the law and Falcons organization, but who cares about that. Lying to the Feds. Not an issue. Just put him on the field dammit!
Vick is not a martyr. The NFL and the law didn’t unfairly punish him. He’s not a civil rights cause, NAACP. He needed a kick in the pants before (which he got), he needs support now (which is scarce or plentiful, depending on who you talk to). The rest is up to him. He’s apologized to the world for his misbehavior. Many athletes have. He promised to do better. Sounds familiar?
Few keep their promise, many athletes renege. The NFL season starts on Thursday, but Vick’s redemption project is beyond the football field. Fans love him, but their thoughts about him are only confined to the sport. That’s not love, that’s selfishness.
If the law and the NFL – and PETA for that matter – continue to hold him accountable, then they are perceived to be the haters. One can be critical and loving at the same time. We practice this with our children, nieces and nephews, siblings. It’s criminal that our stars, the ones that are most accessible to our children, seem to escape such scrutiny.
This isn’t to say that PETA loves him. They never will. But that doesn’t matter. To be honest, that never really did. But there had to be a scapegoat, and being that pointing the finger at the guy fully responsible for his actions was too much, PETA received the lion’s share of the blame. But why?
Black people are known to be extremely loyal to their own stars, but the motives of their loyalty seem to escape the pundits. In athletics and music, loyalty seems to be confined to the subject’s ability to entertain.
Stallworth didn’t entertain anybody. He was an OK receiver for an indistinct franchise. Vick was a tantalizer who reinvigorated the pro football interest in one of the most chocolate cities in the nation. Oftentimes, “love” is ulterior. This is no exception.
Vick’s playing again; Black America now has its wish. Here’s to hoping that it’s not for naught.