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 Post subject: Touchy subject agitates Atlanta
PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2007 9:31 am 
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It's an issue 'muddied by race,' says one Falcons fan, with many African Americans remaining fiercely loyal to the quarterback.
By Jenny Jarvie
August 21, 2007

ATLANTA -- Seal Townsend, a broker for Encore Tickets, used to wear his No. 7 Atlanta Falcons jersey all around town.

For the last month, though, he hasn't even pulled it out of his dresser. Townsend has felt let down lately by his hero, Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, and particularly Monday when Vick announced he would plead guilty to federal dogfighting charges.

"I think he should have waited it out," he said. "The government hadn't proved it. . . . Part of me thinks maybe he'll pull through."

For Townsend, 47, Vick's guilty plea involves business, as well as loyalty to the team: Without Vick, he said, he would sell a lot fewer Falcons tickets than he did last year.

Throughout Atlanta, the mood was subdued Monday as Falcons fans and season-ticket holders pondered the future of the team. Opinions were, to some extent, divided. About 52% of Falcons season-ticket holders are African Americans, many of whom are fiercely loyal to Vick.

"It's kind of a touchy subject," said Jeff Richwagens, 53, a white software developer who attends Falcons games with his 15-year-old son. "It's difficult to have a conversation about Vick that's not muddied by race."

Within a few hours of the news of Vick's plea, hundreds of readers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had posted comments responding to a question on the newspaper's website: Could Vick redeem himself?

"He obviously can't make rational decisions without consulting his thug buddies," said one reader. "He'll be back in trouble within 10 minutes of getting out."

"He would have been better off killing a black man," said another. "Then the white public and the feds wouldn't be so hard on him."

Many, including the Journal-Constitution's sports columnist, Terence Moore, who is black, are critical of fans' devotion to Vick. It is, he said, an "emotional thing that comes from centuries of watching African Americans mistreated in this country from the old cotton fields to the new corporate offices. . . . The hype thing that turns a professional athlete into such a superhero that the average fan can't separate reality from fantasy."

This month, hundreds marched to the Georgia Dome to assert their support for Vick. R.L. White, president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said Vick had been vilified by animal-rights groups and punished too soon by his team. Charles Steele, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Center, said Vick should be honored for being "an outstanding human being."

On Monday, representatives from both civil-rights organizations declined to comment. Gerald Rose, the founder of New Order, a new Atlanta-based human-rights group, said he planned to go ahead with a "major rally" for Vick at the Georgia Dome on Monday.

"People are hurt, people are angry," he said. "Being a black man, we're all trying to get to a point where Vick was at. We feel let down."

For Rose, it was particularly hard to explain to his 7-year-old stepson, Kenneth, why Vick was no longer on the field. "I just say he's in a little trouble now," he said. "But it's like explaining a death in the family. He doesn't understand."

Yet Derek Richardson, a 26-year-old African American who works in IT sales, said his feelings toward Vick had grown more complicated as more details about the charges against Vick emerged.

"At first, I was just, like, dogfighting, what's the big deal?" he said. "And then I read the indictments. There was a lot of detail."

Among his downtown Atlanta co-workers, Richardson said the mood had initially been strictly divided along racial lines, but now only one co-worker continued to support Vick.

However, Richardson said it would be harder to get excited about the Falcons' upcoming season.

"They imprinted him on our minds: Vick was the Falcons," he said.

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