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The Vick Quandary

Get this. Michael Vick, a superstar quarterback in the National Football League, pulling down an obscene amount of coin to play a game he probably loves, could lose his career because he made sport of watching dogs kill, and die. Good fun for deranged folk.

Get this. Michael Vick, a superstar quarterback in the National Football League, pulling down an obscene amount of coin to play a game he probably loves, could lose his career because he made sport of watching dogs kill, and die. Good fun for deranged folk. Maybe I’m a hard judge. I never understood the appeal of blowing a deer’s brains out, either.

This whole saga becomes more incredibly warped as the days bleed away. Vick was becoming the face of an unstoppable corporate monster that has no parallel in American sport. He was on the cover of videogames, shouted out in rap songs. He was a celebrity nationwide, but an icon in Atlanta, a virtual deity to a community ready to elevate a new hero, all their own. He was obsessed over. Could he ever master the west coast offense? Would the Falcons provide him with a true number one receiver? This was important business, the evaluation of a prodigy. Now, he is a problem. For fans, for journalists, for the league he starred for. And he isn’t going away.

The National Football League is Teflon. When sports-writers, nationwide, decided to suddenly start giving a damn about steroids a few years back, they directed their venom at baseball. Baseball, you see, was guilty by association. It is eternally entwined with reputable forces such as tradition, purity, and Ernie Banks. Even worse, its players have recognizable faces, and chase records that the average American may vaguely be aware of. Ah, the moral indignation, the pitiful self-righteousness! Baseball wasn’t blameless, of course. Famous for always being ahead of the curve, dating back to it’s progressive perspective on integration, the contemporary commissioner, Bud Selig, somehow didn’t introduce a stringent drug testing program within his game’s landscape until a few idle years passed in a new century. By then, the damage had been done. Who could forget the sport’s embarrassment, when those vials slipped out of McGwire’s socks as he rounded the bases after his record-smashing dinger? Hell, it looked like he was leaving breadcrumbs in the woods. Terrible stuff.

So, the Show was castigated, a piñata that networks like ESPN could pound on to reinforce their unassailable level of integrity. Yeah, ESPN sure is hard-hitting, except when it’s canceling original programming, petrified of a sports league it is supposed to be covering. [Christ, I shudder to think of a rift between ESPN and the NFL. Where would my drinking life be without NFL Live? Check out my liquor game: An analyst says the word “football”, and you take a shot: “This guy’s a good football player.” “They are a good football team.” “You want to throw the football. You want to run the football.” “That is just not good football.” “That is great football.” “Football.” Shot. Shot. Shot. Shot. Shot. Shot. Shot. Cool, right? I call this game “alcohol poisoning”.]

This in mind, it’s easily understood why very little was whispered about the NFL, back in those heady Congressional hearing days, when the economy was better and Bud Selig was burnt in effigy. The League is above reproach. They get called into Congressional meetings to get patted on the back.

Michael Vick presents an interesting case study. Journalists just adore lumping issues into one gigantic cluster of simplicity that could be easily diagnosed by your average caveman. We’ve even seen this type of amalgamation applied to tragedies. Being an individual only goes so far. After the tragic death of Sean Taylor, the Pro Bowler killed in a botched home invasion, there was a definite sentiment among some members of the credentialed menagerie that this horrible event was an act of revenge, and yes, sadly enough, pathetically enough, inevitable comeuppance for a “thug”.

Yes sir, there was brilliant detective work being done. This must have been payback, an orchestrated plot for retribution. Except it wasn’t. This was no hit. It was a robbery gone wrong. And a young life lost, just as it began to truly grow. Rush to judge. Rush to label. What about that Duke Lacrosse team? Spoiled white kids who thought they could take whatever they wanted, right? Thank God the reverend Jesse Jackson bought a semblance of fairness to that whole scandal. It could have been divisive, ugly.

This is America. The individual is supposed to manner. Yet there is always great haste in affixing permanent identities. Laziness in action, now presented with a challenge… what of Michael Vick?

Here is a perfect storm. The untouchable NFL compromised by one of its brightest stars. And the media machine it so easily manipulates has been coerced, by sheer volume, to report on the seediness oozing from underneath all the wealth and power. No, it isn’t steroids. That is yesterday’s news. The talking heads are now free to focus on something more easily quarantined, a renegade brigade operating on the outer fringes, with Sheriff Goodell in hot pursuit. Roger Goodell has been avenging, dishing harsh discipline since becoming commissioner. The benefit of doubt has disappeared, as behavior reaches an indisputable low. But he too, is faced with the Vick quandary. Will he suspend the disgraced quarterback for an additional season after his sentence is up? Until now, that cloak of anonymity has served the league excellently. Tank Williams is organizing a coup? Suspend him! And the mainstream fan, the one who really matters, asks afterward who Tank Williams even is, and is amused to find a law abiding defensive back goes by the same moniker. The dust is wiped clean. The publicity machine is tarnished, but in tact. Terrence Kiel and codeine, whatever are you talking about governor? Were any hopeless romantics crying about football losing it’s soul after Nick Kaczur became entangled in an investigation involving oxycotin? Did Sports Illustrated release a cover story pondering what we should do with our tainted memories after Rodney Harrison failed a drug test? Paradise lost! The angels weep.

With Vick, the grime sticks. For Goodell is confronted by a superstar, a face that Mr. Mainstream easily recognizes, and an issue that has the masses choosing sides. Be not surprised upon seeing picket signs. The most ardent of his supporters will scream that Vick deserves a second chance immediately. So how in heavens does the league handle a mess that people won’t simply forget?

We love a great comeback story. Plenty of leeway is provided. Hell, Latrell Sprewell nearly strangled his coach and still Knick fans happily sung a sweet redemption song. But this won’t work for Vick. The real problem stems from unfamiliarity. The mob has not programmed itself to embrace a jailbird narrative. Michael Vick may never rise from the ashes, because his career path is simply staggering in its originality. This fall is extraordinary. But is it incomprehensible? How will we define Michael Vick upon his return? It will take something amazing. Something jarring. Something downright frightening… It will take an original thought.

Are we ready?

By mw2828

Matt Waters is a screenwriter currently living in New York. He has been writing about sports since age seventeen, about the time when it became painfully apparent that his athletic dreams would go unfulfilled, due to terrible luck and an obscene lack of talent. His favorite movie is “The Thin Red Line”. His favorite band is “Modest Mouse”. His favorite sport is baseball! With an exclamation point.

6 replies on “The Vick Quandary”

Nice read and I hope Vick can manage too climb out of his mess and restore his image if not entirely at least some what. I read that you like baseball, you have a team?

Thanks for reading and the comment. Vick… I’m not sure how I, personally, want the story to end. I think a lot of fans are kind of forgetting his existence so we don’t have to confront these questions. At least that’s what I’ve been doing. But life isn’t like Madden ’09 before the roster update. You can’t just delete the guy from the game. He will be back, and it will be… interesting, to say the least.

Baseball wise, it’s Yanks all day kid!

Always great matt but i have one pressing issue: How in the hell did you get a tilda in there? Do you have a spanish keyboard? We don’t have those here in Pittsburgh.

“Vick was becoming the face of an unstoppable corporate monster that has no parallel in American sport. He was on the cover of videogames, shouted out in rap songs. He was a celebrity nationwide, but an icon in Atlanta, a virtual deity to a community ready to elevate a new hero, all their own.”

This is the part of your article I have a problem with. Was it truly unparalleled? Was Eldrick “Tiger” Woods not at the very least a parallel? Had his own line of video games. Was the face for America’s second-largest car manufacture. Was the face for golf clubs, golf balls, golf shirts. He made a fringe sport popular. He became the headline story everywhere he went. He brought in eight to ten times what he won in a great year and 20 times what he won in a mediocre year just in endorsements.

Can Vick say any of that? Was Vick making eight to 20 times his salary in endorsements? Were Falcons highlights the number one segment on sportscenter even when the Falcons won? Was Vick the focus of advertising for anything mainstream “white?” Anything decidedly middle class?

Maybe, given time, he could have grown. Maybe. But his marketing hardly left sports. It never approached the middle class white masses except to sell them shoes.

Furthermore, was Vick truly “an icon in Atlanta, a virtual deity to a community ready to elevate a new hero, all their own.”

Again, we must look at racial lines in a city where historically, that’s the only way to look at anything. As a Falcons fan who has never lived in Atlanta, I can only go by message boards, but the white community never truly adopted Vick. God knows I always wanted Drew Brees and LaDanian Tomlinson over Vick.

To call him “a diety” to the city without any reference to race is just not correct. Sure, there were exceptions, but he was a diety to black Atlanta only. Maybe you were trying to be politically correct; I don’t know. But there is no doubt race plays prominently in this story. And it does so at this point.

To ignore race, especially in Atlanta, is to miss a vital aspect of the Vick Quandry, an essential aspect. How many black athletes who “act black” get sponsorship deals with Buick? Become dieties to the white part of a city?

Michael Jordan acted white in public. Tiger Woods still does so. Vick never did. And that is why he never would have become a corporate machine. He certainly would never have become an idol, a god, to white Atlanta.

It is here where this piece needs work. It is a tremendous piece that asks an interesting, possibly unanswerable question. But it’s also lacking at its heart.

Burton, when I said “all their own”, the implication was that I was talking about the black community. Maybe a touch of over-subtlety that led to a mistake. Everything you said is correct. I wouldn’t argue with any of it. But I was talking about the black community. And I thought Vick was a pretty huge deal, nationwide. No, not in the realm of Tiger [who is?] but definitely, definitely on par with Peyton Manning, the NFL’s big shot.

How did I get a tilda in there RJ? I reached through my computer screen and put it there personally. And than I kicked Chuck Norris’ ass. Waters, out.

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