Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Crucifying Michael Vick
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Soon to be former Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick never had a chance. The instant word publicly leaked out that he’d be slapped with an indictment by the feds, he could kiss his football cleats good-bye. The indictment was just a formality. Those good government high school civics courses feed us the myth of the little Constitutional admonition innocent until proven guilty. But Vick was tried, convicted and sentenced in the only court that counts in the big money world of sports and celebrity hood, and that’s the court of public opinion.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Falcons owner Arthur Blank heard Senators John Kerry and Robert Byrd lambaste Vick in the Senate, and saw those picket signs, and heard the screams and taunts and jeers from the PETA orchestrated pack outside the Richmond, Virginia courthouse when Vick surrendered. They listened and watched as sports writers and TV commentators angrily denounced Vick. They heard sports talk jocks saber-rattle against Vick on sports shows and fans burn up Internet chat rooms screaming for his head. They watched as Nike and other firms that Vick had endorsement deals with melt away like hot butter. They watched the NAACP issue a tepid and cautious statement pleading against a rush to judgment against him and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference quickly withdraw their invitation for him to appear and be honored at their annual confab. When Vick’s pals fingered him as being knee deep in the dog battering that did it. No pads, scrimmages, training camp, and definitely no games for Vick. If he hadn’t had a bonafide multi-year contract with the Falcons after Goodell barred him from the Falcon’s training camp he wouldn’t have gotten a nickel in pay.

As celebrity athletes go, even the deal that federal prosecutors offered Vick is anything but generous. He won’t wear an ankle bracelet, be allowed to tool around his estate under house watch, and he won’t get a walk around the street probation stint. He’ll do time, and, it may not be in a cushy country club fed prison. Prosecutors tipped that when they said they’d make an object lesson of him that animal abuse won’t be tolerated and will be severely punished. That of course, is bluster, the breeding, training and even killing of dog gladiators won’t grind to a halt, the dozens of magazines that prep the “sport” will continue to do brisk sales, and thousands will continue to toss hefty cash into the ring at the dog matches. Vick will just be a bare footnote to all of that.

However, he is an object lesson but for a far different reason than what the prosecutors had in mind. More often than not, celebs and sports superstars, even black ones, get cut a lot of slack for their boorish, stupid, arrogant acts and misdeeds, and in some cases even criminal behavior. They are after all the repository of the fantasies and delusions of a public and advertisers, sportswriters, and TV executives that are in desperate need of vicarious escape, titillation, excitement and profits. The sports hero fulfills all of that. He or she seduces, strokes, and comforts those fantasies. They are expected to operate above the fray of human problems, and at the same time raise society’s expectation of what’s good and pure. He or she is rewarded handsomely for what he or she does as a fantasy filler, not for who the often terribly flawed person they actually are. That’s a false, phony, and horrible burden to dump on anyone.
Vick had the double misfortune of standing on the rarified perch of the football icon. Football more than any other sport mirrors the best and the worst in American society-- competition, greed, selfishness and violence. Vick typified all of those qualities on and off the field. But he also typified the good side of the sport--cooperation, organization, achievement and heroism. That crept through in his public statement after the announcement was made of a pending plea deal. He talked about respecting the league, taking responsibility for his actions taking, and he apologized to friends and teammates.

Should we feel pity for Michael Vick? Yes and No. No. He did the crime and as the old cliché goes he should do the time. He’ll still have what the average Joe and Jane that yelled their lungs off for him on the field won’t have and that’s memories of the adulation he received from a fawning public, sports writers, and his mega buck contract and lucrative endorsement deals.
Yes. Vick is yet another reminder that sports icons are the fragile creations of an indulgent sports crazed, hero worshipping, and celebrity idolatrous public. When they take a tumble from their lofty perch, those same fans, sportswriters, and league officials that cheered and back-patted their idols turn vicious and unforgiving. They can never cobble the broken pieces of their name and reputation back together again. Vick in the end waved the ugly issues of wealth, race, celebrity hype, fan idolatry, and animal cruelty in the public’s face. Poor Vick, Poor Us.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.


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Anonymous said...

You paint a picture of a Michael Vick that will have nothing when he returns from prison (or whatever his fate will be). Sure his football career will be all but over, but he will have plenty of resources to move on to the next phase of his life with. Imagine the man who has nothing, loses everything, and is forced to cobble the pieces of his life together just to survive. I have little time to feel sorry for Michael Vick.

Anonymous said...

Poor Vick, poor us? I have made mistakes in my life. Not federal dogfighting mistakes, but mistakes. What Michael Vick is going through is merely part of a process that should change his friends, change his behavior and make him a better person. Much like his judgement by the NFL, media and falcons was outsized, so was his income. I hope he has a talk with someone who explains to him he gets a fresh start, something many Black males when they get out of jail never get.

Anonymous said...

It has long been my belief that the NFL, NBA, etc. fails to groom athletes that they employ. Just like other jobs do for it's new hires, the NFL should take them in and train their minds and hearts. Physical training should not be the extent of it when it comes to athletes. Many players need psychological, financial, moral, and many times home training. This training may need to include a debriefing of sorts from the ghetto or trailer life. The leagues are pulling people from the streets, the clubs, unstable environments, dysfunctional homes, and propping them up with all this $$$$ and fame that many of these players are just not used to. But they not teaching them how to deal with any of it or how to put it all in proper perspective and move forward. Many times they are turned loose to deal with their own vices. Then when the league's 'big pimpin' is compromised, the rush to judgement is on and crackin'.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight, Vick is being "crucified" for killing dogs for fun? Sorry, you are kind of off topic, this guy is a multi-millionaire who did not care about the life of pets, and tortured them for fun. He got what he deserves, and to see eloquent smart black people jumping up to defined him is as repulsive as his actions.

I would rather see the black men and women who have a clue speak out about what's going on in Jena, Louisiana and that real travesty of justice, not defending this man for actions of his own that he knew were wrong. And, now that the NAACP has lowered their credibility once again with the wrong issue to "fight" for, no wonder no one listens when real racial injustice occurs.

This sort of article really does dilute the real injustices that real everyday black people face at the hands of racism.

Anonymous said...

Listening to Vick make sad excuses for his crime is bad enough but at least he has now told the truth (if only when his cowardly cohorts betrayed him). But listening to so called professional writers like this man and other members of the black media community make excuses for him is downright scary! So somehow fans of Vick are somehow to blame for his actions? And the "hypocrites" who dare to shout for justice? I do protest the war, I (unlike most of these idiots that name it as a reason people should look the other way on Vick) read about and understand the sad history as well as the awfuls circumstances of Darfur. But what does that have to do with torturing and brutally murdering animals right here in the USA?? With this logic, no one should be held accountable until the world's problems are cured so let the dogs be tortured! I've seen credibility in media take a nose dive in the last six years....this little op-ed peice does little other than adding dead wieght to that descent. Pathetic. Irresponsible. And Racist, I might add. How dare you use Darfur and Iraq to defend this murderer.

Frank said...

I agree with almost everything Earl has written in this piece.

What is astonishing me is that so many of those who read it and posted comments completely missed the point. Earl wasn't making any excuses for Vick. He was simply pointing out, for instance, that its likely that the vast majority of those who have loudly raised their voices against Vick for cruelty to animals, supported the illegal invasion of Iraq. 91% of Americans did so. Now it's less than 50%, but where were the rest when they needed to be camping out in their congressmen's offices? We've helped kill a million Iraqis and made six million more internal and external refugees.

I was disappointed in Earl only when he chose to name nitwits such as Paris and Lindsey to illustrate the unfairness of our justice system. I would rather than he talked about the untouchable white dopers such as Rush and Noelle Bush and Dubya himself, though the latter only got busted for DWI and stealing, not for the mountains of coke he snorted or the year when he had deserted from the Air Force Reserve, or the abortion he got for his underage girl friend in 1971.

Anonymous said...

91% of Americans supported the Iraq invasion? Says who?

Oh, Vick accepted repsonsibility for his mistakes so he should be allowed to move on with his life?

What Vick is in my opinion, is a sorry excuse for a human being, and he's nowhere near a role model I want my kids to follow.

The man admits dogs were killed outside the pit because they weren't pit worthy? Come on.

And for someone like Earl and the NAACP to defend this guy? Please spare me. The man should go to jail for a long, long time, as should anyone who is involved with putting animals in a pit to kill each other for human amusement.

The Chicago Sports Kibitzer said...

There are many activities which are perfectly legal in the United States that are harmful, cruel and even deadly to animals. From horse racing to medical research to cosmetic testing to hunting and fishing, animals are routinely injured or killed in the pursuit of sport, entertainment, gambling, pleasure, medicine, and beauty with no repercussion from the law.

Minks are slaughtered to make fur coats for wealthy women. Queen Elizabeth attended the Kentucky Derby despite the fact that horses are whipped in the hope that they will run faster and are commonly "put down" after being injured while racing. The vice-president of the United States was driven around in an armoured limousine so he could take pop-shots at defenseless birds (and elderly men). Why then, is the United States government ruining one man's life because he engaged in dog fighting? Is dog fighting less cruel than shooting defenseless birds in the pursuit of "sport?"

Fact of the matter is that, either cruelty to all animals should be illegal or there should be no laws against it at all. There should never be a two-teared justice system, where some acts are legal only because they are done by members of higher social status, while acts of the same logical consistency are illegal because they are thought to be committed by people of lower social status, in this case, minorities and rural southerners.

Anonymous said...

Vick had plenty of chances. Unless you see him as a mindless, drooling, cretin of an "afleek" with no ability to make any logical or moral decision, Vick done got what he had a-comin'. With his "fawning public, sports writers, and his mega buck contract and lucrative endorsement deals", he was one of the luckiest, most fortunate dog-fight entrepeneurs in the country. Had plenty of chances, as he was growing up(?) to make better choices, and had coaches, fans, sportswriters, league officials, and maybe even family members who tried to encourage him to make better choices and to take advantage of the chances he'd been given.

Anonymous said...

Michael Vick was blessed with a god gift and he wanted to take his partners with him and you can't always do that you have to leave them bad influnces on the block. when you move on up you can't take eveyone with you!!!