Vick-tim Of Hypocrisy?: A Former Quarterback Weighs In On The Michael Vick Case

By Byron Hurt
Updated: August 26, 2007

Hurt as a QB for Northeastern.

Hurt as a QB for Northeastern.

NEW JERSEY — I can’t sleep, so I am watching CNN’s coverage of the Michael Vick case. I find myself going back and forth on this in a way that makes me feel very uncomfortable. On the one hand, as a former college quarterback who happens to be black, I identify with Vick, a black NFL quarterback with superior athletic skills.

On the other hand, I feel no sympathy for Vick when I hear new evidence that reveals the level of his involvement in dogfighting and the way he has reportedly killed dogs, execution style. On Monday, Vick will admit guilt to the charge of interstate commerce for the purpose of dogfighting, but not guilty of dogfighting or gambling on dogfighting. Whatever crime he has committed, I believe he should get what he deserves for being involved in something so detestable. I also wonder, with his superstar status as an NFL quarterback, why he would do something so foolhardy. What is most woeful to me, though, is how race and class is unquestionably playing a factor in how people internalize, then talk about the Vick case. Race and class allow normally smart people to not think straight. For example, I heard one black Atlanta Falcon fan say on national television, “I don’t condone dogfighting, but I think they should just let Mike Vick go so he can play football.” Say what? On Anderson Cooper’s CNN show, one white caller said, “If Michael Vick ever gets a second chance to play pro football, I’ll never watch another NFL game, ever.” Really? It’s like that? And I hate the glib, “these-niggas-don’t-know-what-they-are-talking-about” look on the faces of some white commentators and legal analysts whenever anyone black speaks insightfully and strongly about some of the hypocrisy of Vick’s detractors and the over-the-top coverage and outrage. The racial and class subtext is clear, yet left so largely unspoken. It seems hardly anyone in the mainstream media is able to address this with any incisiveness — nor are newspaper editors or television producers able to do a Google search to find the most skilled and knowledgeable people who can. I think Michael Vick messed up big-time. As the facts emerge, it appears Vick knowingly engaged in activities that broke federal laws. It also appears he has sabotaged his career, thrown away millions of dollars, and sacrificed his freedom — all for the love of an illegal, brutal, inhumane activity in which most of the participants are perceived as “low-class” individuals of the criminal element type. I think dogfighting is horrible. Two years ago I watched a segment of a F.E.D.S. Magazine documentary about dogfighting, and couldn’t stomach it. It just wasn’t right. The largely black audience moaned, groaned, and was sympathetic during the dogfighting scenes. I also couldn’t wait for the segment to end.

So, I feel bad for the dogs Vick allegedly killed. Even with Vick and his cohorts locked inside a federal penitentiary, there’s no way the nearly 50 dogs (many of which will be euthanized if no one adopts them), will get justice. I am also glad so many people care that pit bulls are treated with dignity and respect, and are working to seek justice on behalf the oft-misunderstood breed. When I discuss the Vick case with my friends who are involved in social justice work, we talk about the value placed on human lives, versus the lives of animals. People seem more outraged about the violation of animal rights as opposed to human rights. In the midst of all the public fervor and intense media coverage surrounding Vick, here are questions that we find ourselves asking repeatedly: will people who were brutally killed by trigger-happy cops get some justice?

Will the innocent civilians the Bush administration and war strategists killed in Iraq and Afghanistan get some justice? Will girls and women who men kidnap, sexually assault, and rape get some justice? Will victims of gay-bashing get some justice? Will poor black and brown people on death row for crimes they did not commit get some justice? Will black political prisoners get some justice? Will the victims of genocide in Darfur get some justice? Will Tupac and Biggie ever get some justice? Are people outraged by that kind of injustice enough to take it to the streets? I am troubled by the fact that the same people who won’t say a thing — who even rationalize when cops fire off 50 rounds, killing an innocent black man (Sean Bell) — will protest and scream “murderer” and “Con Vick” at the maligned quarterback as he heads into the federal courthouse to cop a plea. And what about my own hypocrisy? I watch hyper-violent sports, like professional boxing, where boxers sometimes lose more than a chance at a title. Many have lost their lives after taking a brutal beating. It’s rare, but it happens. And it happens in front of millions of ticket-buying fans who pay to see someone get knocked out. It is no secret that many boxers, like Leon Spinks for example, have become punch drunk and dim after many years in the ring.

Why am I not hurling outrage toward pugilists? And shall I mention extreme fighting, which is the human version of dogfighting? The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is hugely popular among boys and men. It’s the hot thing right now in popular culture, and is featured prominently on ESPN — even within the same broadcast of Michael Vick’s dogfighting coverage . Many young guys say it is more exciting to watch the UFC than old-school boxing. Experts say it is coming close to selling more tickets than boxing.

But back to dogfighting and the killing of animals. Stephon Marbury of the New York Knicks said referring to Vick, “I think, you know, we don’t say anything about people who shoot deers [sic] or shoot other animals. You know, from what I hear, dogfighting is a sport. It’s just behind closed doors.” Marbury went on to say, “I think it’s tough that we build Michael Vick up and then we break him down. I think he’s one of the superb athletes, and he’s a good human being. I just think that he fell into a bad situation.”

His comments, intended to humanize Vick in the face of such public vitriol and intense media coverage, came off as tritely condoning dogfighting. Marbury has been ridiculed and dismissed by many in the media. There is a reason why so many are emotionally connected to dogs. Dogs are domesticated animals loved by many, young and old. Some people sleep in the same bed with their dogs. No one sleeps with deer (or at least they shouldn’t anyway). And dogfighting, unlike hunting, is illegal. I love the beauty and grace of deer and birds, and shudder at the thought that someone would intentionally kill game for sport or profit, even if it were legal. Yet deer and quail hunters, even high-profiled ones like Vice President Dick Cheney, never get the type of scathing scrutiny that Michael Vick has received for his alleged brutality. The scrutiny Cheney received was because he hid the fact that he shot his hunting partner, as opposed to killing animals for sport. Why is killing animals for sport legal at all? I know avid hunters eat the deer and quail they hunt, but many kill game for reasons similar to those who dogfight — for status, money, and to feel like a “man’s man” in front of their male peers. I must make it clear that I am not defending the brutal killing of dogs, nor am I defending dogfighting or dogfighters. Electrocuting dogs, Vick’s alleged crime, is wrong. Killing dogs by drowning is wack. It is well-known that people who abuse animals are often very abusive to women and children.

But animals are tortured everyday in the farming industry before they are killed. Is that any less brutal or abusive? Or would that conversation make millions feel too uncomfortable, too much like murderers? At the risk of sounding unsophisticated about animal rights and coddling an indefensible millionaire athlete, I think much — not all — but much of the outrage levied at Vick is filled with misplaced priorities, racial prejudice, class arrogance, and social acceptance of one form of animal abuse over another, all supported by corporate media that is sensationalizing the downfall of Michael Vick in order to fill a 24-hour news cycle. If Michael Vick is guilty, he should pay for his involvement in dogfighting. His warped idea of using pit bulls as an extension of his masculinity and power, rather than as pets — along with his deceitfulness, disregard for the law, and lack of vision — have led to his untimely demise as an NFL star. But I must say, after watching hours of footage of dark-skinned Vick, in slow motion, with carefully selected images by photo editors and TV producers of his du-rag, diamond earrings, and swaying platinum medallion (symbols of black male hip-hop criminality), I find myself, as a black man and former quarterback, wishing Vick could have seen all of this coming when he envisioned Bad Newz Kennels, the ill-conceived dogfighting company founded by the high-profile NFL star.

There’s something that irks me about the sense of enjoyment that some mainstream commentators seem to feel in reporting the story of yet another Black man who is about to lose it all. In the end though, Vick has made his own bed. And for me, it’s led to deep introspection about animal rights, human rights — and another maddening late night of pundit-heavy talks shows where far too many Americans are calling in to choose sides — mostly, for the wrong reasons.