White America has it out for Michael Vick. Many whites in this country have a professed and profound hatred for the man.
Michael Vick’s notoriety comes from being an NFL quarterback. He played for the Atlanta Falcons his first six seasons in the league up until his legal troubles interrupted his career. This season, Vick has signed to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, but he will not be able to play until Week Three, when the league lifts his suspension.
Vick pleaded guilty in August 2007 to charges of operating a dog-fighting ring. This past May, Vick was released from prison to home confinement after serving 18 months. Vick served another two months under home confinement until he was finally freed in late July. Vick’s troubles went past the legal front, though, as he filed bankruptcy in 2008 after he lost endorsement deals and was forced to pay back part of his salary bonus. Lawsuits against Vick also served to escalate his financial problems.
But Vick’s story is not nearly as simple as what I just briefly outlined. Vick was the first black quarterback ever to be drafted as a number one pick in 2001. More importantly, Vick has been the pride of Newport News, Virginia, the community in which he hails from and to which he has given back. In fact, the Newport News community holds Vick in such a high regard that there was a celebration for Vick’s release from incarceration. This was despite the seemingly nonstop negative media that Vick has received for the past two-plus years; it’s not a surprise that this event got very little attention in the media.
During this time, Vick has undergone a huge transformation as a person. At the outset of his trial, Vick got rid of his corn rows in order to appear more “clean cut” in front of the judge and the court of public opinion. Since he has been released, Vick has time and time again shown remorse and disgust at his own actions. But to take it even further, he has denounced the “culture” of dog fighting that happens across America. Vick has even signed on to be a spokesperson for the Humane Society in an anti-dog fighting campaign, where he will be speaking to audiences across America about his past mistakes. Vick’s image transformation has been a huge factor in his quest for reacceptance into society, even though he has already served his time.
The topic of Michael Vick is an inflammatory one that spans the entire country. Because of his association with dog fighting, many people hate Vick. But on the other side, there are people who support Vick and see him as a victim of society in general and the media in particular. It is not surprising then, that most people who are anti-Vick are white (with the exception of some Philadelphia Eagles fans) and that most people who support Vick are black. This is a racial issue.
The racial tensions behind this issue absolutely cannot be ignored. I was unfortunate enough to watch a 60 Minutes interview with Vick a few weeks ago on the internet. Interestingly enough, and rather unsurprisingly, 60 Minutes sent in a black man (James Brown) to ask the tough, hard-hitting and overwhelmingly vilifying questions. Brown made it a point to repeatedly interrogate Vick about why “we” (as if the majority of white Americans’ opinions encompass everyone’s opinions) should believe he is a changed man and to really question Vick’s motives for being regretful for his actions. Brown, in his questioning, led Vick to denounce the “culture” of dog fighting he came from. And finally, Brown went so far as to inquire about Vick’s PR team and to ask Vick if he was speaking or if this entire line of answers was his PR team.
Brown was sent in to do the “dirty work” of the white man. This was clearly an attempt to show that Brown’s tough questions were emblematic of the tough questions black America has as a whole. Why else would 60 Minutes put some random sports anchor on the job? If former 60 Minutes anchor Ed Bradley were still alive, would he be the one interviewing Vick?
But the real thing that got to me was the comments section on the webpage right underneath the video. There was a true black / white debate (one in which you will never see in a live public forum these days) about Vick, and the commentary was extremely impassioned, with whites saying that Vick is being dishonest and is a disgusting person. Blacks, on the other hand, commented on how this is a racially motivated issue, which has almost never been discussed in any media outlet. Message boards and comment sections across the internet prove the racialized nature of Vick’s case (I’m a sports nut, so I’ve seen it all). Vick is a victim of systemic racism that pervades the media and America in general. If this were a famous white athlete we were talking about, the spotlight wouldn’t be nearly as bright. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of raping a woman, and ESPN outright chose to ignore the story at first. Why is it that allegedly fighting dogs is such a big deal, but allegedly raping a woman is not, unless it’s Kobe Bryant?
And finally, what is accomplished by getting Vick to go out time after time after time and speak about how he messed up? How demoralizing must this all be for him? We all know he’s doing it to be accepted by society again, but his acceptance should be a given upon his release from prison. What is it about America that we continually treat people who are or have been incarcerated as less than human? And how ironic is it for Vick to be continually dehumanized while he is working for the Humane Society? I’d like to see James Brown ask these questions.
Navid Farnia is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at email@example.com. Over the “Line” appears alternate Thursdays this semester,