When Sports Journalists Talk Race

Many sports columnists around the country are weighing in on Michael Vick as early next week he will plead guilty to a felony conspiracy charge of traveling in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities, or as it is reduced to in sports writing and broadcasting circles, “dog fighting charges.”

In some circles, Vick is seen as the mastermind behind a huge dog fighting ring. In other circles, Vick is seen as the man who is taking the fall for more prominent players. To others, he is nothing short of the dog-killing equivalent of Josef Mengele. And to yet more people, Michael Vick is perceived as the victim of a federal judicial system filled with administration appointees who seek only to disguise and obfuscate the fact that, due to their bosses fear-mongering, our Constitutional rights have gone missing.

Some writers see Michael Vick and his actions as indicative of the gangster mentality of the majority of young black men. They see these men receiving prison sentences at alarming rates. By 2004, 21 percent of black males in their 20s were incarcerated. By the time black men reach their mid-30s, 6 in 10 black men who had dropped out of school had spent time in prison.

They do not tackle the deep issue of institutionalized racism They fail to deal with the fact that historically, black people were seen as less than human. These writers won’t tell you that just 44 years ago it took a civil rights act for black people to feel that they possessed the inalienable rights that white people were endowed with the moment they first stepped foot on this land. They do not tell you that this act must be renewed for black people to continue to possess the inalienable rights that white people take for granted.

They will not tell you that this fact alone allows white people today to be born with a feeling of privilege that black people can never feel and that should a white person complain about their stead, the complaint is a choice rather than what it is for black people – a condition under which they live and of which they have no control.

Instead, they will tell you that people like Michael Vick, a football player, blew his opportunity to lead young black men in a different direction. Michael Vick is not a civic leader. Michael Vick is not a professor, or a high school teacher, a lawyer, a journalist, or a businessman. Michael Vick is an athlete who entertains us through his ability to play a game.

Yet, they blame Michael Vick’s stubborn want to “keep it real” by allowing the same no-good, ill-meaning thugs with whom he spent his childhood days to influence his life today. They say athletes like Michael Vick, whose talent at playing a simple game allows them to lead a better life than their economically stifled brethren, are beacons of hope for young black men; that sports is the way out of the ghetto.

We’re talkin’ about sports.

If only Vick had left those thuggish fools behind, he could freely play his simple game, smile for the cameras, sell corporate goods that cost hundreds of dollars to the nation’s poorest youths and their parents, and laugh all the way to his next, “Lift Up from the Ghetto” charity event, or something similarly named. And that would help exactly who?

The other one black male child in a million with Vick’s abilities, that’s who.

If you believe the government is capable of setting up a United States citizen, it shows that your eyes are open to the capacity for evil that exists when power over humans is at stake. If you believe that anyone who feels that way is a “conspiracy theorist” you are without an understanding of the meaning of the word, “conspiracy,” and how it is can be applied maliciously to even the most innocent act between two people.

If you believe Michael Vick is a victim of his own hubris, you are probably closer to the truth of this case as a whole.

However, it is a gross error to overstate Michael Vick’s importance to young, black men, or black people. Of course the man was popular and was a small source of pride as the first black quarterback to be drafted number one overall by an NFL team. Yet, Vick was far too camera-shy to become an effervescent figure with the capacity to reach corporate iconic status and was far too reticent to trust the world and be more than the exhilarating but mysterious football player he was.

The guilt of Michael Vick is far more important to people who believe he was a sullen, corn-rowed malcontent who refused to learn the position of quarterback. He was and is perceived as the quintessential pampered black athlete. A football child prodigy, Vick is thought of as ultimately a self-centered and uncoachable athlete; possessor of more talent than anyone in the game but out for his own glory even if it is at the expense of team victories. To the people who believe in this perception of Michael Vick – and it must be said many more white people than black people feel this way – his plea agreement is the feather in their cap they lost when jurors in a criminal court returned a “not guilty” verdict in the murder trial involving O.J. Simpson.

To understand that this was an 11-year itch waiting to be scratched, it is important to collapse personal biases for the time it takes to listen to a day of white sportscasters and the few black talking head journalists who feel similarly about the subject that is Michael Vick. The white ones ask vigorous questions, make outlandish claims, and are unafraid to place themselves squarely in the minds of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson. Notice that Vick’s pending guilty plea for the crimes with which he is charged is not enough to slake their thirst for additional punishment.

Initially, the thought of guilt and a lengthy prison term was wholly expected.

Before Vick took the plea agreement, commentators played up the portrayal of a vicious Vick who killed dogs by drowning and by electrocution. They openly pined for the quarterback to receive a maximum sentence. When he took the plea they became the judge in the case and told audiences that a five-year sentence was by no means out of the question despite the agreement.

Now, as it appears that Vick, in all probability, will serve a 12-18 month sentence, these same sports-tellers switch to the specter of gambling. They look to their fearless lawman Goodell to, after Vick serves his prison term, banish him from the NFL forever.

Their black counterparts nearly hyperventilate at the mention of Michael Vick’s name. Rather than answer questions asked, they ramble on breathlessly about how black people in Atlanta just don’t get it; how there is something deep within their psyches that does not allow them to think clearly. These black men in smirking blacker faces have served to resuscitate one of the oldest claims of the inferiority of black people. They say knowingly that these rabid Vick supporters cannot think rationally, that their emotions have taken over their thinking selves. These alleged believers in Michael Vick’s innocence can no longer cognate, they have succumbed to their base animal selves and can only emote.

The vast majority of these people are the same ones who swore and continue to swear that Barry Bonds will receive his court-rendered comeuppance any time now. Bonds’ elusiveness is akin to a person in a beekeeper’s suit walking into and destroying a hornet’s nest. They swarm, relentlessly stinging their armored menace, angry that their best efforts to kill do nothing to slow the moving body of heat in their midst.

When Michael Vick came into view, though, these hornets turned their complete attention to him knowing a kill was next for this unprepared victim attempting to execute a naked bootleg too close to their home.

This is what you may come to see if you can suspend your systems of belief for just a little while. And you will also find that the normally liberal reporters will dance the puppet dance, seeking to get the light shined in their direction, seeking to be seen standing like brothers and sisters-in-arms with their conservative peers.

Off they will go to break bread together, if only for a few moments, before they return to the opposite sides of the same coin having inflicted equal injustices to the young black men they both vilified – and to the white people truly seeking to understand.

D. K. WILSON writes for the dynamic sports site The Starting Five. He can be reached at: mesoanarchy@gmail.com