The Washington Post

A white Michael Vick? ESPN questions impact of race on quarterback’s public perception

Over the last four years there is no player more polarizing in the NFL — and perhaps all of American sports — than Michael Vick.

As the first black quarterback to be selected No. 1 overall in the NFL draft, Vick wowed football fans with his athleticism and game-breaking ability and infuriated others with his disregard for the traditional quarterback role.

When the news of Vick’s involvement in a interstate dog fighting ring surfaced in 2007, charges that landed him in prison for 21 months, vitriol spilled throughout the sports media and American public.

Now, one season after Vick resurrected his career and was named the NFL’s comeback player of the year, the public is still strongly divided on a man acclaimed by some for his athletic prowess and perseverance and hated by others for his myriad transgressions.

But what if Michael Vick were white? What if he didn’t symbolize a “thug athlete culture” to wide swaths of the American public?

This is the subject of a provocative upcoming ESPN The Magazine piece by Touré that is sure to spark plenty of debate around a man who knows little else.

If you can scroll past the asinine rendering of the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback as a caucasian — which even infuriated the author himself — you’ll find Touré describing the street culture Vick’s looks, demeanor and playing style often embody and how these perceived characteristics have shaped public opinion.

“Race is an undeniable and complex element of Vick's story, both because of his style as well as the rarity of black QBs in the NFL. A decade after he became the first black QB to be drafted No. 1 overall, about one in five of the league's passers is African-American, compared with two-thirds of all players. But after his arrest for dogfighting, so many people asked: Would a white football player have gotten nearly two years in prison for what Vick did to dogs?

“This question makes me cringe. It is so facile, naive, shortsighted and flawed that it is meaningless. Whiteness comes with great advantages, but it's not a get-out-of-every-crime-free card. Killing dogs is a heinous crime that disgusts and frightens many Americans. I'm certain white privilege would not be enough to rescue a white NFL star caught killing dogs.”

The author then essentially refutes the idea that Vick’s situation could be considered with a white subject. The quarterback’s upbringing and every element the life that have led him to this point are unique to him and it’s impossible to say how that life would be different were Vick white.

Touré concludes by asking readers to view Vick “as someone in the third act of the epic movie that is his life, leading a team that many expect to see in the Super Bowl.” In all, it’s a bizarrely interesting piece that follows a potentially incendiary premise — and overtly offensive image — only to conclude the premise is ultimately moot.

Matt Brooks is the high school sports editor for The Washington Post. He's an Arlington native and longtime District resident and was previously a high school sports reporter, editor for several blogs and Early Lead contributor with The Post.


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