By Wendell P. Simpson
ABOVE PHOTO: Eagles quarterback Michael Vick reacts after getting hurt during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Philadelphia, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010. Vick left the game with a rib injury and his return is questionable. Vick was having X-rays in the locker room.
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Michael Vick just can’t catch a break.
On the field, over the last two and three-quarter games, the Eagles quarterback has been phenomenal in bailing head coach Andy Reid out of his failed Kevin Kolb experiment: a stellar 110.2 QB rating; 750 yards passing, with six passing TDs—and zero INTs; he’s run for 23 times for 170 yards and one TD; a more–than-decent pass completion rate of 60.5—plus he’s been sacked 11 times. So much for the notion he can’t—or won’t—play in the pocket.
Now after the much ballyhooed and anticipated match between the Washington Redskins, which heralded the comeback of former Birds’ QB Donovan McNabb, now playing with Washington, Vick found himself flattened in the first half of the game with a rib injury that will keep him sidelined for up to six weeks.
Off the field, he just can’t escape the pejoratives: dog killer, felon, sociopath, troubled Black athlete.
Now, no one is excusing his involvement in the infamous dog fighting fiasco. Vick’s behavior was both reprehensible and inhumane. He certainly earned his punishments—21 months in the federal pen, another two months under house arrest, the loss of his lucrative endorsement deals and two years worth of NFL salary—he was, at the time of his arrest and conviction, the highest paid player in the league.
And, excepting the incident at his birthday party—which both NFL and police investigations determined he had nothing to do with—he’s managed to dodge trouble the way he’s been able to dodge defensive linemen during his nine year pro career. But, despite the fact that he’s paid his debt and enough penance to inspire Martin Luther to rise from his grave to nail another treatise on the church door on his behalf, he’s still burdened with the labels and the mythology.
Recently, a well-known internet site released a list of the most hated athletes in sports. Michael Vick topped the list. Among the other indicted luminaries were Eldrick “Tiger” Woods, LeBron James, Alex Rodriguez, Plaxico Burress, and, of course, that perennial favorite of haters everywhere, Terrell Owens—all men of color, a list almost as dark as the night time sky over the Kalahari.
It’s not the first such list. From Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson, Josh Gibson to Barry Bonds, Fritz Pollard to Jim Brown, Jesse Owens to John Carlos and Tommy Smith, Arthur Ashe to Yannick Noah and, certainly the unrepentant Jack Johnson, who dared to violate the most sacred sanction of them all—the sanctity of white womanhood, racialism has always corroberated the denunciation of the Black athlete.
The current situation with Mike Vick is emblematic of that age old legend borne of a terrible dread of the masculinity, virility, grace, strength and the indomitability of unfettered Black power. Vick, like so many others before him, is an explosion. If it were rage, it would blow the walls down; if it were poetry—and in many respects, it is—it is an indictment.
And as long as that explosiveness is contained within the prescribed domain, that is, Black man as spectacle for hire—with 20 percent for his handlers—then he is at least acceptable. Baseball’s Gentlemen’s Agreement was an act of containment, as was Pollard’s banishment from football and Hitler’s snub of Owens in 1936 Berlin.
It is only when the sepia genie threatens to explode out of the top of the bottle, when it resists being emasculated, does it become the monster threatening to consume everything.
And there never is enough contrition: Tiger threw himself upon the alter of the media; Burress shot himself; all LeBron did was to broker a better deal for himself; Vick fought dogs—hell, the beloved Ty Cobb, one of the most virulent racists in all of sports history—with the possible exception of the Schott family—is enshrined in the Hall of Fame, an American icon to be looked up to and respected.
The thing about Vick is, he’s is no threat, no rebel, no recalcitrant Black advocate. He’s a Southern boy who was naïve and unawares enough to continue the old Southern way. His was a misstep, a stupid decision by an immature kid who ascended to his throne unprepared for the spotlight –and the hypocrisy—that is professional sports in America. And here’s what I do know: If Vick continues to win—and especially if he takes the Eagles to a Super Bowl—every dog-loving sports fan in Philadelphia will find a way and a reason to forgive and forget his transgressions.
But that truth is never going to be enough to sate the racialists who will always look behind every dark corner for that hidden Black savage onto whom they can pin the blame for a national pathology that underpins all of society’s aberrant behaviors.