Oh, Ron Mexico – whyja doit?

Diane,

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.

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9 Responses to Oh, Ron Mexico – whyja doit?

  1. gb says:

    Wait. How can you not root for the Falcons, given the balance I thought you struck so well on music with objectionable messages or by people whose morals you question?

    Not that I want to encourage you to cheer on a dog-executioner, I’m just saying.

  2. specialagentdalecooper says:

    I said “root for,” but what I should have said was “support.” Mainly in the financial sense – contributing money to an organization (either the Falcons or the NFL) that refuses to take punitive action against Vick, just because he’s a big star, would be exactly the kind of moral failure that I was worried about committing in my previous post. I think the league has to punish this kind of thing, for their own survival as a business in the longterm. But on a personal level, I can’t give money to groups that would knowingly pay millions of dollars to a guy who is going to turn around and fund his own dog-killing industry (or his post-federal indictment legal defense.)

    This also steps into an area that is quite separate from singing or writing about something I find objectionable. If I buy albums by a band that sings songs about racism in a positive light (but as far as I or the federal government can tell does not commit violent acts against other races) that’s something that makes me uncomfortable, but may not necessarily be a moral failure on my part. (See previous discussion.) But if that same group was also putting their CD proceeds into a white power organization fund for wooden crosses and gasoline and matches, or sticks for beatin’ up black people, that makes me a bad person. The former example is complicated but the latter is really not. I am giving money to someone who spends it on activities I strongly oppose, and which are illegal. The marketplace of ideas can be a mess to navigate, but it’s not the same as doing business with criminals.

  3. JimPanzee says:

    In response to the last two posts and your response here to gb I wonder if you are fully considering the role of music and entertainment in general in the propagation of the illegal/immoral acts you oppose. You know me and I’m not that guy that blames Marilyn Manson for school shootings but I do blame him and others for the rapid ascension of black clothes and hair and white face makeup as the high school fashion du jour.

    There is a chickeneggchicken problem, I’m aware, but it is undeniable that rap music and black culture in general lionize dog fights. Certainly rappers rap about it because its a ghetto industry and talking about real life is how these guys make their millions. But at the same time when they make a guy a hero because he breaks the law, is cold blooded, and raises the best dogs…well, that’s practically an order to the street that says: if you want the cred you have to buy into this part too. We can say that rappers are tongue-in-cheek, or that most of them never participated themselves in the illegal acts they rap about…or at least not to that extent….but at one point can the support of the theory be stopped before support of the practice?

    I realize that some of this is exactly what you were posting about last time, especially in regard to the difficulty in navigating through the ethical mess. Maybe this is the impetus you needed to finally do away with your music moral high ground and start pirating. That way you can get the music you want without supporting the men and women that would turn the ghettos into non-stop gang killings and dog pits.

    And before I’m misinterpreted, I know that dogfighting did not begin with black culture. Animal vs Animal has long been a hobby of all cultures and was incredibly prominent in the Modern Western tradition. It may be due to the protestant drive toward public decency with private indiscretion, or it may be due to a lack of hillbilly record labels, but while rednecks have been the center of the dog-fighting world for at least the last century, they never have seemed to brand themselves around the topic the way that black culture has.

  4. JimPanzee says:

    Oh…and good friend Tim Braun wrote about the same topic today at the Austin Chronicle. (Same topic different theme) Just thought it was odd and that I would share:

    http://austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Sports/?oid=oid%3A505061

  5. Kit-chen says:

    This is easy:

    The next time Michael Vick doesn’t complete a pass, I say we just get someone to pick him up and throw him into the ground until his neck breaks.

    Problem solved.

  6. specialagentdalecooper says:

    Jim – I’m definitely fully considering this role; it is in fact the crux of, and reason for, that other post. But I believe that discussion to be open-ended, perhaps unresolvable. I am resisting reopening that debate because I think it’s a bottomless, filthy can of worms. I honestly do see the point of Jen’s suggestion, though, and kind of agree with it. (Although the RIAA would not.)

    But it’s tricky. If a song mentions dogfighting, do I have to illegally download it or not listen to it at all? Do I first have to determine whether it mentions it in a positive or negative light? Should I be OK with buying anything unless the album is called “Dogfighting Is Awesome ’cause DMX Says So, Kids”? Am I obligated to research an artist’s lyrics in their entirety before buying anything by them? Or if I realize a song on an album I own is glorifying dogfighting, do I have to wait for the contrite public apology before buying anything else by the same artist? These are the kinds of judgement calls that have to be made on the fly, perhaps, because they ARE so complicated. But it’s not going to get me to start downloading Decemberists albums on the off chance that they have a song that gives a big thumbs-up to necrophilia. (And not just because I don’t like the Decemberists.)

    Back to topic: The simple fact is that we can have an argument about whether it’s good, bad, or neutral to rap about dogfighting – but we can’t argue about whether it’s good or bad to actually fight dogs, unless one of us is a giant dick. I think the former argument is worth having, and I think about it every time I am considering buying a hip hop or dancehall or metal album. I have in fact abstained from buying a few albums that I wanted to hear. But I don’t think there’s merit in the latter argument. And that being the case, I feel like maybe I shouldn’t be giving money to the organization that fattens Vick’s pockets.

    Incidentally, initial reports are that the NFL and Falcons owner Arthur Blank are witholding judgement pending the results of the legal process. I know we are all greatly surprised by this decision. Of course if Vick were not a multi-million dollar franchise quarterback his ass would be out the door already, maybe permanently – he would in short have gotten the Pacman Jones treatment. This is naturally all about business. The NFL won’t suspend Vick (without a legal decision against him) unless the fans make them realize that it would be more profitable for them if they did so. Nike is maintaining a similar position – expect to see Vick’s personal shoe on shelves any time now. (They should add a silhouette of a pit bull on a chain to the logo.) This is not surprising or even upsetting to me, but I feel consumers out there should deal with it rationally. They won’t change their stance unless they see that current policy is hurting their profits.

  7. JimPanzee says:

    I ain’t got no answers. I’m often left wishing my way out of dilemmas like this. The real problem is not that rappers rap about slangin, bangin, hustlin, fightin dogs, etc. The real problem is that, in many urban environments, that is the life they lead and there is a certain evolutionary mandate to be tough. So it’s hard to condemn the social imperative that rewards these men (and women) to be the kind of person that can successfully navigate their way through that life. But what that means practically speaking is that we pay tribute (literally) to the rappers for making men heroes for perpetuating the crimes and false ideals that made their lives hard to start with.

    We hardly look back at the old bards’ tales, like Beowulf, as the same sort of circular social engineering, but they were. Telling young medieval (and earlier) men that the only way to find glory, to find riches, and to gain the acceptance of women was through being victorious in war meant that men would seek battles regardless of their rightness or wrongness.

  8. specialagentdalecooper says:

    You’re exactly right. And art reflects society quite adeptly, while also feeding back into it. The commentators who bemoan the state of rap lyrics and the content of “Grand Theft Auto” are merely going after the easiest target, because tackling the social ills these things spring from is much harder. Which is yet another debate I don’t want to open up at the moment.

    Where it gets sticky is what you do with art that probably or possibly has a negative social consequence, but is still good art. The most whitebread conservative geezers in this country love westerns, for instance, but westerns were ALSO shadowy reflections of real problems (both historical [direct] and modern [metaphorical/representative]) and ALSO glamorized breaking the law, acts of violence, mistreatment of animals and women, etc. So why do they give the genre a free pass? Because it looks utterly beautiful when Clint Eastwood paints the town red – literally, and then violently – at the end of “High Plains Drifter.” Because as a culture we like our art and entertainment. Because we believe in freedom of speech and the beauty of expression; and we think that somehow the net effect on our society is more positive than negative when art is allowed to freely exist – even if men and women and dogs are killed inside the frame of that art.

  9. gb says:

    I say, when it comes to entertainment, and by that I mean art, too, it’s important to separate the person from the entertainer. As such, where I a fan of Michael Vick, the football player, then I would continue being a fan of Michael Vick, the football player. I think Kobe raped that girl, but I can’t help but admire some of the things he does on the court.

    2Pac shot people. So did Snoop Dogg. I still listen to their music. Were a current artist to be doing something I object to because of the money he made off me, I wouldn’t necessarily stop buying his or her albums.

    The rest of it is subjective — where entertainers glamorize something negative, I say it’s best to look at whether they’re doing so capriciously or if there’s some value in it artistically.

    Lastly, do you have a bootleg of that DMX CD “Dogfighting Is Awesome ’cause DMX Says So, Kids?” I’d like a copy.

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