Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Michael Vick: The Past and Important Perspective

Although The Match 2: Champions for Charity didn't leave my Sunday totally devoid of a sports shot in the arm—the trash talk was great—my evening entertainment was remiss. Perhaps you too have developed some sort of ritual the past five weeks in anticipation of "The Last Dance" two pack we were given during shelter-in-place. As much as I would enjoy and anticipate a docuseries on the five time championship Los Angeles Lakers, we are hopefully NOT another pandemic away. In the meantime, until the sports world moves beyond UFC fighting, the Outlaw Tour, Korean baseball and Bundesliga, I have one suggestion: the 30 for 30 Vick.
I don't know why this two part ESPN program didn't get more attention. Released in January 2020, Stanley Nelson's documentary divides its time between the two reasons you are most likely familiar with that surname—football and dogfighting. 

In the article ‘Vick’ Review: Latest ’30 for 30′ Installment Shows the Difficulty of Considering a Life in Full, Steve Greene writes
In an attempt to provide a full accounting of Vick’s life and career, “Vick” stops short of full absolution or outright condemnation. With a person who’s still capable of inspiring equally passionate reactions — from those who argue for his superiority as a generationally influential football player, as well as those who say his role in a highly publicized dogfighting scandal should negate any athletic legacy — Nelson has made something that looks to address both as thoroughly as possible. It’s an admirable goal, but in this expansive project that winds between moments of insight and moments of redundancy, that pull between two opposite ideas doesn’t leave much room for anything else. Sounds fitting for the times we are living in today. 
To reduce Michael Vick's story to one of two domains is short-sighted, Take one look at the current trends, changes and developments in the NFL, and it's hard to deny his story emerges as that much more intriguing, complex, worth watching and discussing. 
Though the past NFL season may feel like a lifetime ago, the director Stanley Nelson had it right when he said in an interview with The Undefeated: "The timing of this story is impeccable when you look at the season that Lamar Jackson had, and what Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson and others have achieved in recent years. Some don’t comprehend the historical significance of Vick’s legacy as the first African American quarterback to be selected with the NFL’s first overall draft pick."

He added, "Not only was it significant that he was a black quarterback taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the entire draft, but it’s also significant in light of the way he played. The decision that was made by the Atlanta Falcons was that this style can win. Ten years prior, he would have been switched to defensive back, running back or wide receiver. We’re seeing his impact come to fruition with this current generation of black quarterbacks. And it will continue this way, this emphasis on having more athletic quarterbacks. Vick was at the vanguard of that and we’re going to see more and more of it."

I love the word vanguard....
Nelson's message, though timely, it not new. In "Success is a Journey" an article written in June 1980 in Sports Illustrated hall of fame basketball player Bill Russell said,
I can remember watching a game on TV a couple years ago, and I was moved to say something like: "Man, that Unitas is great." One of the black guys I was watching the game with, said: "Who knows?" A little bit stunned by that, I asked him what he meant, and he replied that he really could not evaluate Unitas or any other quarterback fairly since they had never faced a full range of competition. A Paul Hornung, Mickey Mantle, Jerry West—you cannot deny their greatness, because they have stood the test of time in a free market, so to speak. But no one can pretend to know how good our best white quarterbacks would be if the NFL permitted the development of black quarterbacks to compete with them.
Michael Vick opened that door to a full range of competition. Though not the first black quarterback—the program shows Donovan McNabb as a mentor—his position as the top pick  in the draft is significant, regardless of race. However to consider the norms both spoken and unspoken add import and bear reflection. 

William C. Rhoden, New York Times Columnist 1983-2016 adds, "Back in the day, if you were a Michael Vick type of person, there was no way you were going to play quarterback in the National Football League. They would put you in a wide receiver, slot receiver. Anywhere else but quarterback Athleticism was a punishment. You were being punished for being athletic. That was a source of frustration for a generation of black guys."

But what became of such promise? We know some of the story. "Vick" offers much more. The cultural critic Alejandro Danois said, "the thing about Michael Vick is that I don't think it's too difficult to examine his legacy and think about What he could have been as opposed to what he actually was. He set the stage for the Cam Newtons and the Russell Wilsons. What if his career was not interrupted?"
To reduce the "interruption" to a federal investigation for dog fighting is totally limited. The climate in Michael's home, personal relationships, substance use and abuse, money, media and more were a mounting storm. The trial and conviction, the public outcry and response, his time in prison and community service are worth (re)examination and evaluation. 

When asked the question "What would you say to people who are opposed to watching this film, who are still adamantly yelling that Vick is nothing more than a dog killer?" the director, Stanley Nelson says:

"I hope we all believe in some sort of redemption, because we all make mistakes. And if anybody is a representative of redemption, it’s Mike. But if you want to watch the film and hate him more, you’re welcome to do that."

In the ESPN Sports Daily podcast, Bomani Jones is much more direct. He says, "to anyone who says Michael Vick should never be forgiven, I challenge them to check their definition of forgiveness." Again watch and decide for yourself! 
Today, I see Michael Vick in the announcer's both during NFL games and enjoy his commentary and insight. Wondering how the public regards him today, I was drawn to this story when I heard about an ad that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wanted to run during the Super Bowl. Allegedly, “The National Football League (NFL) apparently found our new Colin Kaepernick–inspired ad — with its message of inclusion and respect — too daring and pressured FOX to snub our commercial," However, many believe conflating the struggle of African Americans with one that animals have endured is problematic, inaccurate and dehumanizing. Bomani Jones added "many Blacks believe that animals have more rights than humans." None of this can be ignored in light of Michael Vick's story, his work for PETA since his conviction and the public's response both past and present.

Vick doesn't have the backdrop of 90s beats, bad uniforms, renowned profiles and championships as one will find in "The Last Dance."  You will however see another example of a unique talent. As Nelson says, "You wanted to watch him on TV regardless of who his team was playing against because he was simply breathtaking. Every time you watched him, you saw something new. He was the athletic embodiment of Jazz and hip-hop, his improvisation on the big stage took the game to a level it hadn’t been to before." 
And, in it own way, VICK is "a classic American story. Sports is a part of all of our lives, it’s a part of who we are as a larger society. It allowed me to talk about other things within the context of this one-man story. That’s what storytelling is about. It’s not, “this is what happened day-to-day” to Michael Vick, or The Freedom Riders or Marcus Garvey or The Black Panthers." It’s about, what’s the bigger story behind all of this and how does that reflect on who we are? Human rights, animal rights, family, friends, prejudice and bias, expectation and more. Times like today afford us with the opportunity to watch, discuss, and share. 

Photo Credits
With Mahomes

Final Head Shot

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