ESPN’s Failed Race Card Test


Michael Vick (center) and two of his biggest supporters-former NFL quaterback and cousin Aaron Brooks (right) and James "Poo" Johnson of the Hampton Roads Boys & Girls Club in Newport News, Virginia.

ESPN flipped the pages of the old blackface minstrel shows trying to make a point about race, sports and society when they put out an illustration of a white Michael Vick to accompany a lame, but offensive article on the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. They failed on all accounts.

Depicting Michael Vick as a white quarterback that appears in an article written by black entertainment reporter Toure, reeks of backward racism and journalism gone bad. It’s one thing for a media outlet to go for shock value when approaching angles to cover a story.

It’s quite another when they make bad judgment calls that mocks journalism principles and turn common sense on its head. I get the premise of the article. Two years removed from a prison stay because of his involvement in dogfighting, Vick is the hottest commodity in the NFL.

 After re-earning his stripes as the most exciting athlete playing on Sunday, Vick commands our attention like no other NFL star. He is the Muhammad Ali of his sport. His newly inked six-year, $100 million contact with the Eagles solidifies that status.     

Vick won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award following a scintillating 2010 campaign in which he claimed the Eagles’ starting QB position and re-emerged as the most breathtaking talent the league has ever seen. Vick’s ascension from a poor Newport News, Virginia neighborhood to superstardom to plummeting to rock bottom before getting the chance to rejuvenate his career after being locked up is one of redemption and resiliency.

America loves a good comeback story. But Vick’s comeback has been cut up, mixed in and stirred in the pot of culture and race. The issue of race has been the main calling card.  A good percentage of whites were not in favor of Vick coming back to play in the NFL. A lot of black Americans on the other hand, felt Vick was treated too harshly for his crimes and deserved a second chance to redeem himself.

The angst against Vick was so great that a person could smell the air of hate like one does at a mob lynching. Though much of the vileness has subsided, thanks in part to Vick’s remarkable season last year, ugly wounds of racial bigotry and ignorance has showed itself enough to remind folks it is still a large part of our society.

This brings us to ESPN and its bumbling attempt to inject the discussion of race with the offensive, white-faced Vick. Well, they did achieve that goal. But probably not the way ESPN honchos would have wanted. Instead of a slap on the back of congratulations for addressing the racial component to Vick’s re-emergence as a sports icon, ESPN has come under fire and received a lot of backlash for the article.

And deservedly so.

While the thinking may have been in the right place, the final product turned out to be a slap in the face in race relations. ESPN could have stated their stance a lot more clearly with a stronger article and without the whiteface gimmick.

Instead we get a muddied and clumsy picture from the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports trying to make a point about how race has played a critical role in the Vick comeback story.    

First, the article written by Toure, “What If Michael Vick Were White,” is a complete disaster on many levels. Toure loses me when he states that Vick has a “deeply-rooted African American approach to the game” in his article. This is just total nonsense. I don’t believe for a second that Vick wakes up in the morning and tells himself that he has to play football as a black quarterback.

Vick plays the way he does because he is a gifted talent with the skill set like no other athlete to play in the NFL. Period. Now Vick’s instincts as a quarterback is very much related to the athletic, play-making abilities that many black signal-callers possess, which is an attribute that you simply can’t coach.

But you don’t get to the NFL and rise up to superstardom by just playing streetball. Let’s give Vick a little bit more credit to his game than just a wild and out, everything goes approach. Toure then goes into the ignorant realm when he suggests that if Vick were white and born to white parents and was surrounded in a well-to-do neighborhood, dogfighting would have never even been an option as opposed to being born black and raised in the projects.

That is just ridiculous. To suggest this notion is both racially insensitive and offensive to black Americans, Vick’s parents, the community he grew up in and people in general. What Toure is saying on so many levels is that being born black is a curse, and being white is the answer to all of life problems.

The last time I checked, it’s been white guys like University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, investment banker Bernard Madoff and former Enron executives who have operated illegal multi-million dollars Ponzi schemes that has destroyed life-savings accounts, killed off education funds, siphoned off retirement monies, ripped off home-buyers and torn the life out of thousands of people’s lives.

And let’s consider the fact that dogfighting is not just a black thing. It is a money-making machine for whites as well. Floyd Boudreaux, who is white, was acquitted of multiple dogfighting charges a couple of years ago, was considered to be a major figure in the dogfighting arena for years. Yet there hasn’t been too much ink and publicity about his involvement and running a major dogfighting factory.

This is where the racial element comes into play. If Vick were a white star athlete as an NFL quarterback he never would have sniffed a prison cell. Animal and dog lovers aren’t that interested in ending dogfighting and cockfighting because they still exist and a lot of people involved in the sport are white. This is where Toure and ESPN failed to connect with readers.



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