By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Friday, Jul. 20 2007
All the breathless debates about Michael Vick are missing the point. The bigger
issue has nothing to do with whether or not he deserves the right of due
process, or whether NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should suspend him, or
whether Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank should enable him or give him tough
love. It's not even about whether or not Nike should be launching another
designer shoe with his name on it.
All of those are minor distractions from a much larger and far more significant
issue. Here's the real brainteaser that we need to get a handle on:
How did someone like Michael Vick ever come to exist?
Are we really ready to have that conversation? Do we dare explore how a young
man of such unique athletic gifts and such obvious on-field marketing appeal
was allowed to turn into just another unfortunate mug shot and potential ruined
life? How did that remarkable athlete get a $100 million contract with the
Falcons, become Nike's poster boy, rake in endorsements from airlines and cell
phone companies, then find himself on the verge of blowing it all because of an
incredible tale that seems to come straight out of some hardcore gangsta rap
We can save the "presumption of
innocence" conversation for another time. As improbable as it might sound,
technically, there's a possibility that Vick actually could own a house, rent
it out to his relatives and be dumb or naive enough to not know that there was
a dog-fighting enterprise going on in the back yard. The U.S. Constitution
provides Vick with the right and opportunity to prove that preposterous
possibility to a jury of his peers.
I am far more interested in how it all came apart for Vick and why it keeps
coming apart for too many black athletes in America. The ultimate symbols of
black athletes in our society used to be men of substance and positive image.
Men with social conscience and resolve such as Jackie Robinson, Curt Flood, Jim
Brown, Bill Russell and John Thompson used to be our heroes. They carried a
burden and deep-rooted responsibility to portray themselves with a sense of
dignity, pride and purpose. Even the cool, counter-culture rebels such as
Muhammad Ali and Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood for something more
meaningful than a multimillion-dollar shoe deal.
But somewhere between Jackie Robinson and Michael Vick, things got all fouled
up. "Street cred" became the anthem of the modern black athlete, this misguided
notion that the only way to appeal to the young demographic of the
sneaker-buying public was to adopt the negative attitudes of the thug life
popularized by black hip-hop/gangster rappers. According to the 18-page federal
indictment, Vick is accused of sponsoring the sort of gruesome dogfighting
enterprise that is readily identified as a part of the dark side of that
So that's how someone like Michael Vick came into existence. He got hijacked,
and we all let it happen. We let it happen by passively condoning this mess. We
did it when we turned Allen Iverson into a marketing icon and rejected someone
like Grant Hill because he lacked "street cred." We allowed it to happen every
time we gave Vick the benefit of the doubt when he kept stumbling and offering
weak alibis for his stupidity. We allowed it to happen slowly, insidiously over
the past 20 years. The problem is the hijacking of African-American culture by
the hip-hop generation that has helped glorify every rotten, foul and
disgusting racial stereotype it took generations to eradicate.
The minstrels used to show up in black face, shuckin' and jivin' like Amos and
Andy or Stepin Fetchit. Now they come in baggy pants sagging over their butts,
glamorizing thug life and prison fashion, legitimizing derogatory racial
insults into the mainstream, and convincing an entire generation that this is
the measure of true blackness and anyone who bucks this system is either a
racist, hopelessly out of touch or a sad Uncle Tom.
Fortunately, not everyone is buying into this nonsense. We're at war, and we
have identified the enemy. "We have to start making sure folks understand who
the 'Toms' really are," says my man on the other side of the state, Kansas City
Star columnist Jason Whitlock. "It's the gangsters on the corner who are
killing black folks. It's the idiots who are on TV rapping about it and
glorifying it. We have to make black people understand those are the real
sellouts, not the ones who refuse to accept it."
Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.
"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm".
Henry David Thoreau
Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.
"Luck is the residue of design." - Branch Rickey