Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Whitlock on Vick

Whitlock hits another home run. I think this piece of commentary is important enough to reprint in its entirety.

Vick Can Evolve from Hip-Hop Prison Culture

Honestly, I don’t wish jail on the people who despise me the most. Incarceration is that dehumanizing.

So forgive me for lacking passion about the guilt, innocence and/or punishment of one-time franchise quarterback Michael Vick for his alleged involvement in a dogfighting ring. Hell — given that the state, if inclined, can make a blind witness’ vision 20/20 — I’m even willing to give Vick his presumption of innocence.

Why not? He is an American citizen, last I checked, and we don’t need to look any further than Duke lacrosse to see what can happen to a prosecutor when the media spotlight descends on a criminal case.

Nope. My desire is to see Vick evolve as a human being and for his troubles to serve as yet another wake-up call for black athletes to reject the hip-hop/prison culture that glorifies much of the negative behavior and attitude that has eroded the once-dignified and positive reputation of African-American athletes.

As much as I love dogs — and I really do have an affinity for them — this case primarily repulses me because I believe Vick got involved with breeding vicious pit bulls because rap-music culture made it the cool thing to do.

Listen, I don’t want PETA supporters upset with me. Animal cruelty is intolerable. But I’m wondering what could turn a human mind and heart so cold that a person would find pleasure in breeding dogs for cruel destruction in 2007.

Seriously, Vick didn’t do it for the money. The Atlanta Falcons gave him all the money he could ever hope to spend. Vick was involved in pit bull breeding (and quite possibly dogfighting) because he enjoyed it. He’s a product of a culture that makes the “profession” acceptable and honorable. It’s the same culture that has turned the dope dealer into mayor of the neighborhood.

This is a human tragedy, too.

It speaks to the grip the negative aspects of hip-hop culture have on young people. Vick is a millionaire athlete who has spent most of his NFL career trying to maintain his street cred. Despite lifetime financial security, Mike Vick stayed on the “grind,” hustling for that paper with his Bad Newz Kennels. Idiot.

Well, unless he plans on launching a rap career and releasing a solo “Dogfighting Was The Case,” I don’t see any of this ending well for Vick. Even if he’s not convicted or reaches a jail-evading plea bargain, Vick has destroyed his athletic reputation while trying to keep pace with T.I.

This is a cultural phenomenon that has swallowed a small percentage of African-American athletes, but a large enough percentage to significantly damage the overall perception of black, American-born athletes. As Dr. Harry Edwards told me two weeks ago, it only takes a few key people to hijack an entire culture.

N.W.A., the late-1980s rap group, hijacked hip-hop years ago, and calls to return it to something resembling decency and self-respect have fallen on Def Jam ear$. Allen Iverson and his sneaker/jersey sales hijacked the image of black professional athletes years ago, and out of fear of being labeled a racist or a sellout, few have even dared question the sanity of it … until now.

Now we can all see the stupidity. Gangsta-wannabe rappers masquerading as professional athletes is a public-relations nightmare waiting to tear apart sports franchises and leagues.

Vick’s employer is in an impossible position. The right thing for the Falcons to do is support Vick through his legal proceedings. But how can the organization? Vick is a human distraction now. Atlanta has a new coaching staff that will find it nearly impossible to operate smoothly in the environment/media circus Vick has created for the organization.

Heck, even Al Sharpton and Russell Simmons joined in the castigation of Vick and dogfighting, penning a joint letter with PETA that was sent to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and all of Vick’s corporate sponsors. True, the letter wasn’t all that harsh, but the fact that Sharpton would in any way publicly hold a black person responsible for any action is historic. And, if you have a scorebook at home, we now know that Russell Simmons is adamantly opposed to the killing and brutalization of dogs, but he is in favor of the glorification of killing black men in music. I’m just passing that along without any editorial comment.

OK, where was I? Yes, the Falcons might as well name Paris Hilton cheerleading captain.
If Vick were to play this season, the fan hostility directed at Vick will engulf Atlanta’s home stadium.

Vick needs a paid leave of absence to sort out his legal problems. He shouldn’t be suspended or denied pay because the Falcons and the NFL have invested too much in Vick to treat him like Pacman Jones.

That’s right. I don’t believe in treating everyone the same. I believe in treating everyone fairly. Suspending Vick would be too prejudicial (legal term, not a race term) and inhibit his ability to receive a fair trial.

If he’s convicted of a felony, the Falcons probably have provisions within his contract that would grant them the right to release him and go after a portion of his signing bonus if they so choose.

Ray Lewis was at the scene of a double murder, failed initially to cooperate with police and eventually pled guilty to obstruction of justice charges. Ray used to be in love with his street cred, too. It took double-murder charges to knock some sense into one of the game’s best linebackers.

He evolved, and he’s certainly been an asset to the NFL ever since his evolution. Will the same thing happen to Michael Vick? I doubt it, but I certainly hope so.

How delightful it will be to live in Richmond, Virginia, the legal center this story. [/sarcasm]

A couple years ago, I was in the market for a Virginia Tech jersey. Holding fond memories of the season they played in the National Championship game, I searched for a #7 jersey, but never found one. I settled for a nice hat. Good thing, too, because burning those jerseys releases all kinds of toxins into the air, and burning that jersey would have been my only option. Hell, I'm thinking about buirning the damn hat.

I guess I lack Jason Whitlock's ability to have mercy, at least today.

Karen isn't allowed to watch animal cop and animal rescue shows on our favorite networks, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, because she gets really upset. I've told her that she's not allowed to view the details of Vick's indictment for the same reasons. The ways these monsters (I won't dignify them with the term "animals") execute losing dogs is beyond the pale. There just aren't words for how reprehensible the charges in the Vick indictment are.

Yes, Vick is innocent until proven guilty, and should be treated as such by the state. However, there is no denying that all of the activities listed in the indictment took place at this address. They have the equipment, the dogs, and the bodies. (Almost all of the surviving dogs had to be euthanized.) The only question is whether or not Vick was actively involved in it or completely ignorant that the entirety of this mansion-like property he owned had been extensively converted for use in illegal activities.

Funny thing about serial killers: They almost always start with animals. Psychologists have drawn direct lines from the point where a person switches off the idea "animals shouldn't be tortured and killed" to the point where they switch off "people shouldn't be tortured and killed." I'm not suggesting that Michael Vick or any of his alleged dogfighting associates are on the road to being serial killers. But there's a certain disregard for life here that is among the greatest crimes I can imagine. Killing dogs is worse than just the earthly activity of killing dogs. Training them to kill each other is a whole other level of evil. Yeah, I said evil.

Whitlock's article, when seen on its original web page, features a picture of a man at an Atlanta baseball game holding up a sign reading "Michael Vick Is Innocent." The man is black, and a Georgian. I'm so looking forward to the race-ification and sports-ification of this trial. How thrilling it will be to watch otherwise intelligent African-Americans and Falcons fans raise the ghost of O.J. and root root root for the home team. (Whoops, I forgot the sarcasm tag.) Please pardon the hyperbolic racism of the preceding statement, but you have to see where I'd be frustrated by this. Whitlock is dead on: "the fact that Sharpton would in any way publicly hold a black person responsible for any action is historic." The attorney for the state better make sure there are no Virginia Tech fans on the jury.

We've known that this might be coming for a while. There have been hints, rumors, leaks, and speculation for months. But the degree of cruelty engaged in on this property is so far beyond my ability to imagine that it shocks me.

A few months ago, I said I was "done with Vick" on this blog. That's too tame. It's anti-Vick from here on out.

EDIT: Noticeably absent from Michael Vick is any statement asserting his innocence.

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