Michael Vick represents perhaps the most intriguing NFL superstar of this generation. His dog fighting case exposed a racial divide (i.e., Google “Tucker Carlson Michael Vick” or “Sean Hannity Michael Vick” to gain some insight on whites' vitriolic reactions) and a Hollywood-worthy riches-to-rags megadrama. But, for DBSF it is Vick’s standing in the black—in particular, disadvantaged—community that merits him the greatest appreciation.
Before his conviction Vick was football’s version of Allen Iverson—the superstar who perseveres through adversity while always maintaining his core blackness*. (For DBSF to assign any person a position on the scale of blackness is undeniably dubious seeing as DBSF is white. To give some perspective, he, DBSF, has several “John Mayer Live” albums in his iTunes library and adamantly believes that Subaru makes the premier station wagon-cum-SUV. However, his inability to “get” Judd Apatow movies makes him only ‘marginally very white’.)
Although white people hate to acknowledge it, there’s something romantic (i.e., the third definition on dictionary.com, not the first two) about Vick coming from limited means in a marginalized, poor black community (Newport News, VA) and achieving success at such a prominent level while maintaining the culture of his past.
While commercial interests (e.g., Space Jam) might entice some athletes to shy away from behavior and attitudes deemed offensive by the mainstream (i.e., white) culture, Vick dominated professional football and was rewarded with a nine-figure contract with the Falcons without pandering to the white majority. In fact, Vick (and Iverson) were so impressive because of how explicit and conspicuous they were in exhibiting their blackness through cornrows, tattoos, etc.
Fifty years ago the superstar black athlete was expected to be subservient to white interests and culture. At most he could be a darling of the Northern liberal whites (no slavery, no Jim Crow, but stay in your schools and on your side of town). Muhammad Ali and his allegiance to the Nation of Islam changed that. After centuries of degradation and unspeakable (and sadly, largely unrecorded—shocker those two white Kentucky police officers reported that death as an accidental homicide and not a lynching . . .) violence targeted at blacks, Ali brought the machismo and Malcolm X-militancy that showed that not only would blacks passively accept blatant injustice propagated by whites; but, in fact, they’d punch whites right in the mouth for it. (This gets white peoples’ attention. As a white person, DBSF can attest that getting purposively punched in the mouth is a rare phenomenon and about as appealing as that time Murphy Brown got cancelled.)
Of course, the comparison of Vick and Iverson with Ali is extremely limited and lies primarily in that the two should be applauded for championing athletic success and their black culture. (While Ali possessed arguably the greatest sociocultural force of any American in the 20th century, Vick and Iverson fall in the Ricki Lake stratosphere of cultural behemoths**.)
This soliloquy exists because DBSF wished to applaud Nike for resigning Vick to an endorsement contract. Supposedly, this was the first time a major endorser re-sponsored an athlete after a major crime.(Also, the fact that DBSF is currently reading a biography on Muhammad Ali and his, DBSF's, infinite fascination/ desire to include content on Malcolm X and Black Nationalism/ militancy probably added two- to three-hundred words.)
Vick’s sponsorship deserves praise in particular because of his criminal past. In the 1990s, one-in-three black men between the age of 20-29 were under the supervision of the criminal justice system, and at any time approximately 1 in 20 black men are in prison. However, of state and federal prisoners black men represent approximately 50% of nonviolent offenders. Most of these men pose no threat to the community but are forced to cohabitate (and network) with violent offenders. Upon release the absence of rehabilitative services, like job training and drug treatment, considerably limits individuals’ ability to reintegrate into society. (Thanks, Ronald Reagan--the ‘War on Drugs’ makes Vietnam look like the US was in an international Women’s Softball match).
Anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of the relationship between race and the US criminal justice system is aware of the deep injustice. It’s commensurate to the suspicious one would have going back and looking at the housing market in 2005 and wondering why one bedroom condos in Las Vegas and Orlando are starting at $400K in neighborhoods with family AGIs under $30K per year. But, the problem in the criminal justice system is worse. Multiplied. And by a lot. Thus, the symbol, albeit limited, of a formerly incarcerated young black man returning from prison and prospering is welcomed. (Next week, DBSF will return to discussing the custom basketball team Nick Young made on NBA Live 2K11 where every player on the team was Nick Young and even the real Nick Young put all the fake virtual Nick Young's passing and defense abilities at 10/100.)
*NB: DBSF should clarify that identifying “blackness” among individuals coming from limited means (i.e., Michael Vick and Allen Iverson) isn’t to suggest that blackness is inherently tied to poverty or disadvantage. No one would argue that the political or business success of the President, Robert Johnson, or Ursula Burns precludes them from being black. Rather, Vick and Iverson encapsulate a form of urban and rural disadvantaged black that whites have castigated and suppressed for centuries. But, ‘disadvantaged blackness’ or ‘rural and urban disadvantaged blackness’ doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so well and is a pain-in-the-backside to type every time.
**NB2: DBSF is not suggesting that Vick and Iverson epitomize being black or African American. Obviously the two have a pot-smoking-, bowling alley brawling-, dogfighting-past that would be an insult to assign to any racial, ethnic, gender or Dungeons and Dragons group. Rather, they were brought up in a culture resulting from structural disadvantage (i.e, few opportunities, fewer jobs) and they persevered and they maintained that culture without feeling the need to change their identity because of their success.