Jeff Pearlman

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Sometimes you read a story and just say, “Ugh …”

That story, today, is a piece by the single-named Touré in the upcoming issue of ESPN The Magazine.

The piece, titled “What if Michael Vick were white?” is beyond bad. Beyond offensive. Beyond simple.

It is, at its core, stupid.

I don’t know Touré, but I know he should be ashamed, as should a magazine that would run such drivel. The premise for the piece—the reason it is being written—comes at the end of the third paragraph, when the writer says, “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?”

Uh … what? After his arrest for dogfighting, so many people asked:

A. What sort of human tortures dogs?

B. Will Michael Vick ever play football again?

Nobody—and I mean this for blacks and whites—asked whether a white football player would have gotten the time Vick did. I don’t even mean to say such is a bad question or a good one … merely that it was a nonexistent one. Literally, it did not exist (in his defense, Touré is a music guy. Maybe he just doesn’t get it. But the editors—they need to).

I’ve worked as a journalist for a long time, and I know—too well—contrived bullshit when I see it. Back when I was at SI, the editors decided to do a cover story on Whatever Became of the White Athlete? It was a severely flawed premise … an terrible moment for the publication that caused many staffers to cringe and hide. Around that same time, SI did a lengthy piece on why the University of Miami should kill its football program. That, on the other hand, was brilliant; a genuine issue addressed in a smart, detailed, insightful manner.

ESPN’s Vick story is, quite simply, attention-seeking nonsense—complete with a horrifically offensive illustration of Vick if he were white.

And yet, it’s a precise indicator of what we’re about to receive, RE: Michael Vick. Because we are a predictable people with predictable behaviors, the coverage here is pretty easy to grasp. Initially, there was condemnation. Then, fascination. Now we are all, by cliched journalistic law, supposed to embrace the comeback. Wait—The Comeback. We are required to marvel at Vick; to nod glowingly and knowingly as he talks about lessons learned. The endorsements will follow (they already have), until his transgressions are all but forgotten.

Which, I suppose, is OK. I guess.

 

  • http://tom.mcallister.ws TMC

    A few notes, Jeff:

    1) To Toure’s credit, he has made it very clear that he had no input on the headline on the awful graphic; supposedly he specifically asked that they NOT use that exact headline.

    2) Although I generally agree with your point re: attention seeking, etc., I disagree with this line: “Nobody—and I mean this for blacks and whites—asked whether a white football player would have gotten the time Vick did. ”
    Many athletes have gone on and off the record saying exactly this. MANY black Eagles fans have argued exactly this since he signed here. Even Marcus Hayes (a local sportswriter) has written it and said it on the radio. It may be a belief you think is dumb, but it’s pretty commonly held among Vick supporters. Even check the controversial GQ piece W. Leitch wrote– the students in the school ask him if he thinks he got “screwed” by the police, and Vick doesn’t seem to disagree.

    3) You should try to get Toure on here to talk about his article. Would make for a great discussion.

  • http://earnyourdonuts.blogspot.com Brian

    I didn’t react to this article as strongly as you did, but I thought David Fleming’s current articles about Vick (apparently it’s the Mike Vick issue of ESPN Mag) were much better.

    It’s strange times as an Eagles fan. I was always a fan of McNabb, a guy who as far as we knew never even had a speeding ticket but who was never fully embraced by a segment of the fan base.

    Now Eagles fans (myself included) are enthralled by Vick. I was initially shocked and horrified by the signing, and I’m honest enough to admit that I (we) wouldn’t be so accepting of him if he hadn’t put a nearly MVP caliber performance and completely put our team on his back last year, nor would we have seen so many interviews with him and read so many articles about him, but the thing that stands out about Vick is (and please don’t think I’m minimizing the significance or horror of his crimes in saying this)that “other than the whole dogfighting thing, he seems like a good guy.” He seems like a good leader and a hard worker, things it didn’t seem like he was in Atlanta, where he kind of seemed like a jerk even before the world new about Bad News Kennels.

    (Sorry for the tangent)

  • Steve702

    The people who asked if the Michael Vick dog fighting case was race related are the same people who think everything is race related. Perhaps the “what if he were white” question would have a little more impact if we weren’t always wasting it on guys like Vick, Barry Bonds, O.J. Simpson, etc. Sometimes a guy is just a tool, regardless of skin tone.

  • Horace

    i hate ESPN. there needs to be a competing sports programming network. hopefully, the Skip Baylesses, Jemele Hills, Colin Cowherds, and the like will all be dumped then.

  • http://NONE James

    Big fan but I think you missed the mark on this one. As TMC says, Toure had no input on the headline or the graphic. I think that’s the strong reaction. I think the article is fairly tame and uncontroversial. The point of the article isn’t line you noted, but this one,

    “In making Vick white, you have him born to different parents. That alone sets his life trajectory in an entirely different direction. Thus when this hypothetical white Michael Vick … wait, I can’t even continue that sentence in good faith. I mean, who would this white Vick be? That person is unknowable.”

    The purpose of the article is that there are advantages based on both race and class, especially in a place like Newport News. You can’t ever do the “what if he were X” thing because it’s an unknowable and inconceivable conversation. I don’t think most of us find that too outrageous.

  • http://tom.mcallister.ws TMC

    To follow up on my 2nd point, here’s another ESPN link, from an anonymous poll of 44 NFL players:

    “IF VICK WERE WHITE, WOULD PUBLIC PERCEPTION BE THE SAME, WORSE OR BETTER?
    A large number of voters (42.9 percent) felt skin color didn’t matter. But an even larger number (57.1 percent) thought it mattered a great deal. “The public’s tendency is to want to put black people back where they came from,” says an All-Pro DB. “And it was probably a little more so because it was a black QB.”

    Full story: http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/6885697/nfl-michael-vick-nfl-peers-support-anonymous-poll-44-players-reveals-espn-magazine

  • http://earnyourdonuts.blogspot.com Brian
  • Michael

    It’s unusual but I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, after I read the article I looked up this Touré in hopes that he was white. He wasn’t. I really appreciated how he made the article about how the nature of Vick’s upbringing had a large part in his acts, which is the biggest factor in most crimes. Kudos to Touré.

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