I’m gonna take a stand right now. Let me be the lone voice in the wilderness. Here it is:
Michael Vick is a piece of shit.
OK, I’m not the lone voice on this one. There is a pretty large, unified throng out there calling for his head. Well, they have my support, sort of. You won’t spot me in an angry mob wielding a pitchfork, but on the other hand I will never defend this guy; I will not root for+ the Falcons as long as they continue to employ him; and I may seriously consider boycotting the NFL if they continue to handle this in their usual manner of pretending it doesn’t exist because it’s a big star who makes them a lot of money. I say this now to the league (who of course isn’t listening to me, but might hear the throng): if you can come down hard on Pacman Jones, you have do the same to Mike Vick. I don’t care if he is a major draw, paid several times more than Pacman to play, and selling jerseys by the warehouse-ful. You have to suspend the man.
Clearly, Diane, we have a lot to talk about.
First of all, for the people living under rocks and closing their eyes and ears whenever they hear the words “football” or “NFL” on the news, Michael Vick is the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. He’s a young vet with a handful of years in the league, a man once regarded as The Future, the quarterback who could run better than any halfback and seemed to have stolen Peyton Manning’s laser rocket arm. In more recent seasons he’s been The Typical Black Quarterback, the guy who can ONLY run and doesn’t get that a quarterback has to look to pass first. Sorry for the racist implications – I’m just reporting the prevailing sentiment, not my own feelings about Vick as an athlete. We’ll get back to that (racism) in a minute, because it’s once again rearing its ugly head in this new mess. Anyway, Michael Vick is a very high-profile athlete who makes a shit-ton of money and (some would say) maintained his starting job with the Falcons more because of the merch he sells than the wins he gets or what he does for his team. He’s been embroiled in some recent scandals that were more hilarious than damning. There was Vick, getting tested for herpes under the pseudonym Ron Mexico, which is basically the best alias ever. And there he was getting busted for trying to take pot on a plane in a water bottle. Small-time stuff that played well on “The Daily Show.”
Well, earlier this summer, a property that Vick owned, and on which some friends and/or relatives of Vick’s were staying, was outed as a dog-breeding and -fighting location. He got rid of it like you’d get rid of a carton of milk with a three year old expiration date that you found behind a kitchen cabinet – quickly and with great prejudice. He made a statement to the media that indicated he wasn’t involved, didn’t know what was going on.
Yesterday, Vick was indicted on federal charges. No more statements to the press, no more denials. The property’s sold but the stain is permanent. Vick is that guy who raises pit bulls for fighting. That guy who bets 30 or 40 thousand on a single fight, on his own dogs. More to the point, he’s that guy who personally killed pits that didn’t meet his standards, who was present when one dog was repeatedly slammed to the ground until it died, because it failed “the tests.”
Er, allegedly. He’s ALLEGEDLY that guy.
Here’s our first issue, Diane. In this country we are innocent until proven guilty. None of us want to be tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. And that’s right; that’s the way the system should work. I don’t want Vick to be sent to prison on the basis of the fact that it’s obvious to any right-thinking person that he was involved in this to an unacceptable degree* (which is to say, almost any degree). Vick should get his day in court, and if the feds can’t convict him, he deserves to go free. But the league should come down on him anyway.
Look, the NFL is not a government organization. Our taxes (our local taxes) may help pay for a lot of what they do, but the league is a private enterprise. They don’t have to wait for Vick’s federal trial to wrap up before they make a decision. They can, and should, suspend him today. They should kick his ass out of the league for at least a season. And if he gets prison time, they can add on to that. The NFL has a business reason to make this decision, which is that Vick’s new scandal is a black mark on the league. The NBA has been flailing around in recent years, in part because of a decline in the sport and the loss of its megastar (Jordan), but also in part because of severe image problems stemming from one scandal after another. Sadly, some of these were due to the fucked-up roster and delusional management of my own favorite team, the Pacers – but that’s a subject for another day. Anyway, what the NFL does not want to do is follow the NBA down its dark alley. If they have in the past been guilty of looking the other way on stars’ indiscretions and misdemeanors and felonies in the interests of the bottom line, they now need to make the opposite decision for the same reason. The amount of jerseys Vick sells (including hilarious ones that say “Mexico” or “Ookie” on the back**) will not compensate for the damage done to the league if they keep him around. We’re not talking about PETA or Humane Society campaigns, though both of those are coming, and would assuredly target the league if necessary. No, we’re talking about indictments (multiple) on federal charges, and the widespread disgruntlement of fans who aren’t prepared to see America’s New Sport in the same light as NBA (“buncha thugs!”) or baseball (“buncha steroid-swollen assholes!”). It’s hard enough for us to turn a blind eye to the NFL’s obvious steroid issue, but this one is a stick in the eye. You can’t ignore it.
The NFL also should do this because it’s what any employer would do. If I were indicted on these charges and the evidence was this clear, my employer would catapult me off the property. They wouldn’t even talk to me – just hook my chair up to a big contraption and launch me out the window when I got back from lunch one day. My company doesn’t have to wait for me to be convicted of a crime to fire me. They can even let me go for things that aren’t crimes. If I sit here and surf for internet porn all day long, they won’t wait for a lawyer to come in and prove it. They’ll pull me aside, give me a “what were you thinking?” lecture, and fire my ass. And that’s fair enough. I’m OK with them firing me if I spend all day on porn sites. And I’m more OK with the NFL firing Michael Vick because he kills dogs. Allegedly.
Here’s our second issue, though, and it’s troublingly contradictory to the first one. There are still a lot of racist dickwipes in this country (see two posts ago on this blog), and a lot of them are also sports fans. Remember this, Diane, when you see an opinion piece that refers to certain athletes as thugs, or mentions tats and cornrows, or talks about that “certain element” of society that promotes dogfighting. There is an unfortunate sentiment out there that it’s only the black players damaging the major sports leagues, and this probably wasn’t helped when Barry Bonds moved to the center of the steroids scandal afflicting baseball now.
But you know what? Mark McGuire was the homerun hero before Bonds, and he was just as clearly inflated with illegal substances and the clear and the cream, whatever the fuck those things are. And Mr. McGuire (in case you can’t tell from his name) is white. There are plenty of white athletes with drug problems and criminal charges against them. The Indiana Pacers/Detroit Pistons brawl may have centered around black players (er, yeah… it’s the NBA), but it was a white fan who threw the cup at Artest that started it, and it was a white fan that threw a chair on the court, and many white fans who were screaming and hurling food and programs at the Pacers as they tried to get away. Except for crazy-ass Stephen Jackson, who was egging them on like an evil pro wrestler.
My point is, white people can do fucked-up, immoral, and illegal things just like black people. And despite the sparkly-clean image of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, there are plenty of white assholes in the NFL. If the image problems in pro sports tend to start with black players, it’s largely because the two biggest sports – football and basketball – are black-dominated. Yes, Pacman Jones is someone I’d never want at my house, but so is Bill Romanowski. The focus on this aspect of recent scandals is none too surprising considering how often you hear (white) fans bitch about Vick’s popularity. “Those guys can only run, not throw” is often code for “Black guys are better athletes than thinkers or leaders.” And if you think Barack Obama and Colin Powell (or for that matter Tony Dungy and Donovan McNabb and Steve McNair) don’t contradict this, you still have your blinders on. Michael Vick isn’t representative of the entire African-American population. He wasn’t when he was a somewhat overrated quarterback, and he isn’t now that he’s been indicted. We need to try to keep this in mind before we propogate cute little expressions like “You can take the boy out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the boy” (which is something I’ve seen written online about half a dozen times since this story broke). Vick is an asshole, but it’s not just his skin color or where he grew up that made him that way.
So, let’s not come down on Vick because he’s black, and by all means give him his right to a fair trial. Both of these things would be only right, only just. But if the NFL wants to kick his dog-killing ass out of the league for any number of games or seasons, I will stand up and applaud.
+ This footnote added on the basis of gb’s comment. I have no rooting interest in the Falcons in the usual sense – I’m not a fan of the team. Take this in the spirit of “support financially” or “buy Falcons products” or “wish the Falcons owners well in their business endeavors.” I also no longer plan to name my firstborn Alge Crumpler Cooper.
* I don’t want to get into all of that here – the details of the indictment are widely available elsewhere on the internet. Suffice it to say there is a lot of evidence and a number of witnesses that make Vick look REALLY bad and REALLY guilty. This ain’t Kobe vs. the alleged rape victim or even O.J. vs. Mark Furman, Kato, and the incompetent prosecution team. This is borderline open-and-shut, and if he gets off, it will be on a technicality or because his many millions of dollars bought a supervillainous defense team that makes Johnny Cochrane look like Lionel Hutz.
** “Ookie” being the nickname Vick’s friends gave him in conjunction with the dogfighting – it’s mentioned in his indictment. No one human being except Paris Hilton has ever given so generously to late night talk show hosts.