Revolution #100, September 9, 2007
The High-Tech Lynching of Michael Vick
Revolution received this correspondence from a reader:
I’ve been following what is going down with the case of Michael Vick, the star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons who recently pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to operate a dog-fighting enterprise across state lines. A couple of weeks ago an attorney I know asked me my opinion about the controversy. I only knew what had been pumped out by the media, but because sports is an arena where ideas, values, and relations in society get concentrated, I wanted to understand the situation better.
After looking into it, I realized that going after Vick doesn’t really have to do with him committing a crime, nor was it a case of PETA vs. Michael Vick. There’s more to it. It seems that a decision had been made to take Vick down by those who are “higher than the team and lower than God.” Many describe what’s happening to Vick as a high-tech lynching, and it is being played out before the eyes of the nation.
When Vick was recruited by the Falcons, he signed the richest contract in NFL history. The quarterback is usually considered the leader of the team, and there have been very few Black quarterbacks in the NFL. According to the attorney I know, “There’s no one who can play quarterback like Vick.” Vick was definitely a symbol of pride for Black Atlanta, and Black people more widely.
But now that symbol has been taken down. Nike, Coca-Cola, AirTran, and Kraft dropped him. Reebok stopped selling his No. 7 jersey. Donruss pulled his trading card from its sets. After Vick’s plea deal, the NFL suspended him. The prosecutors will reportedly recommend a sentence of a year to 18 months at the December sentencing (the maximum he could get is 5 years). There is a basic recognition in Black America that his career is over.
Many people, while not condoning the brutal treatment of dogs, feel the punishment of Vick doesn’t fit the crime. Other pro athletes have been accused of worse crimes and faced less severe consequences. There have been ugly attacks in the media against Vic—and openly KKK-type shit on the internet calling for Vick to be lynched, beaten, and “neutered.” Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “We are more aghast at Vick’s crimes against animals than athletes’ crimes against women. And that is criminal.” My attorney acquaintance said, “Where was all the outrage over the hundreds of Black people who’ve been lynched? What has been the punishment for those who committed that crime?” Juanita Abernathy, widow of civil rights figure Ralph Abernathy, said, “You would think that Michael Vick is the largest criminal this country has ever encountered, by the media play.”
News clip after news clip show gory details of the killing of dogs by various means, attributing all this to Vick long before he agreed to a guilty plea on a conspiracy charge. I don’t minimize the cruel, repugnant nature of dog fighting. But this mad rush to condemn Vick has been bloodthirsty itself. A YouTube video shows a dog tearing up a toy stuffed person, with the name “Vick” written on it—conjuring up images of dogs in the South tracking down runaway slaves, gleeful white people waiting for the lynching to happen, or vicious police dogs attacking Black civil rights protesters. You hear many Black people say, “Would all this happen if Vick were white?”
This is not the first time Vick has been publicly flogged in the media. In January of this year Vick was detained by Miami International Airport security for carrying a bottle that they claimed contained “a small amount of dark particulate and a pungent aroma closely associated with marijuana.” He was not arrested and not charged with anything. Lab tests found no evidence of drugs. But the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote, “It shouldn’t matter. Vick hasn’t grown up and there’s no reason to believe he ever will.” Tony McClean, a writer for BlackAthlete Sports Network, brought out, “I know some folks will say, ‘Well, he is a public person and should be used to that kind of scrutiny.’ No disrespect, but scrutiny is one thing and character assassination is just something else.”
My attorney acquaintance said that Vick “played stupid”—that he didn’t watch his P’s and Q’s and play the ideal “role model.” But the high-tech lynching of Michael Vick has to be put in the context of what’s going on overall—things like Michael Richards (of the Seinfeld show fame) doing a whole racist rant onstage at a comedy club, using the “n” word and threatening an audience member with lynching. Or what’s happening with the Jena 6, Black high school students who are facing years in jail for standing up against entrenched racism (while white students who hung lynching nooses on a school tree got slaps on the wrist).
There’s a conversation running throughout the Black community and sports world, from newspapers to the internet, radio talk shows, and barber shops: One of the most talented Black athletes rose to the highest ranks of the sports world, and then was torn all the way down in a second by the media, the police, and the courts. Not only is a clear message being sent that Black people can’t get justice under this system, but a green light is being given to vicious, open racism.
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