Thursday, August 30, 2007

Masculinity in the 'Hood

Although I'm not a big football fan (the Bengals have cured me of that) I do have some thoughts about the NFL - Michael Vick controversey, concerning whether or not he should ever play football again. I'm sure the NFL, its lawyers, the Falcons, their lawyers, the team's owner, his lawyers, and Vick and his lawyers will figure all that out after criminal justice system is through with him. At the very least, the Falcons' fans, whether or not they have lawyers, will miss Vick's participation in the 2007-2008 season.

If you've been living in a cave the past few weeks, you may not know that Michael Vick, erstwhile black quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, has been suspended indefinitely from the NFL, due to his pleading guilty to organizing a dog fighting "league". He will probably spend the next year or more in prison. Dogfighting is illegal in nearly all states and is a federal felony if there has been any interstate activity. It is possible for him to be sentenced to a maximum of five years on federal charges. That could put paid to his football career. If it is proved that Vick was also involved in gambling on the outcomes of dogfights, there could be even more charges against him, and he could face a lifetime ban from football according to the NFL's policy for personal conduct.

Obviously, dogfighting is a repulsive "sport" to most people, doglovers or not. The most heinous of his actions, however, were his methods of killing the underperforming animals.* According to the indictment, Vick "...executed approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sessions by various methods, including hanging, drowning and/or slamming at least one dog's body to the ground." Reasonable people would judge Vick a candidate for a severe sentence.

The larger question, however, is whether or not he should be deprived of his livelihood for the remainder of his productive football career. He has declared that he is sorry for his actions. Sorry he got caught, maybe. His apology rings a little hollow, too reminiscent of Paris Hilton's repentance of her multiple DUI's and finding solace in the Bible. It remains to be seen how Vick will attempt his own redemption. It takes more than an apology and admitting that he used "bad judgment and made bad decisions." After being heavily involved in dogfighting, he now says that it is "a terrible thing and I do reject it." Riiiiight.

What also concerns me is the developing debate on whether or not Vick is being vilified due to his race more than a white man involved in the same behavior would be. I know no one who would be satisfied with a less severe punishment for a guilty party not of Vick's race. However, there are few who could have lost as much as Vick has already lost. As one of the highest paid NFL players, along with his highly successful product endorsements, he was a much admired Falcon whose jerseys were immensely popular. Certainly Vick will lose his $20 million salary for the next season and possibly more. He may also have to pay back a good portion, supposedly $22 million, of his $40 million signing bonus. He recently lost his position as company spokesman for AirTran Airways and Nike has cancelled his shoe contract.

Future endorsements have flown out the window, unless his successful redemption would make him eligible for something other than a Purina commercial. Whatever criminal punishment he receives, he has already paid a dear price for his "bad judgment and bad decisions." He was ranked 33 among Forbes' Top 100 Celebrities in 2005. However, various antics even before the dogfighting accusations caused him to lose some luster and several endorsement contracts were not renewed.

Critics have been suggesting that this all is a case of "piling on" and that this incident should not cause Vick to lose his livelihood. In the case of his former endorsments as well as with the NFL and his former team, time will tell. A year or two in prison, with the exercise facilities that will be available to him, won't harm his chances to maintain the physicality necessary to return to the game. Another year or two after he is released, Vick can prove his dedication to "growing up" by avoiding the tempations that led to his downfall. The opportunities in the 'hood to stray will remain.

As another young black man who grew up in the projects has said, "If you can't change the people you're with, you have to change the people you're with." This young man, Farrah Gray, was a millionaire at fourteen, the money earned by hardwork, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his dedication to following the values given him by his family, pride, respect, hardwork, preparation, inspriation, the desire to give back and the strength to never give up. His book "Realliionaire" should be in Vick's jail cell.

Our current culture stripped away a black man's main role in providing for his family - in many ways, not just monetarily. The Great Society's generous but ill-conceived welfare programs made keeping the father at home with the family unnecessary. The advent of the Black is Beautiful movement of the late sixties and seventies was supposed to enable blacks to enhance their lives with pride at being black, not define their lives. Suddenly, the unspoken message went across the nation for black youth to not act like "whitey", to reject the white man's standards in education, especially and most tragically. Young boys interested in learning were often ridiculed for doing well in school. The entertainment industry, with the rise of cable television in the 70's and 80's, showed young black men and women where it was "at" for their success - in the NBA, or the NFL. The sexual revolution in the 70's added to the downfall of the family, both white and black, but it hit far harder among blacks. Birth control was available, and soon legal abortions were there to provide for the birth control of last resort. For far too many, the stigma of unwed motherhood became obsolete, replaced with a badge of self-worth.

From rolling out:
Middle-class black women with children fail to see marriage as an option due to their dissatisfaction with the low numbers of black men they view as marriageable material. The social castration of the black male has almost been secured with soaring high school drop out rates, unemployment, drug abuse, and incarceration.

Midnight basketball programs, the good intentions of keeping youngsters off the streets, reinforced the stereotype. Midnight homework programs would have been a better alternative, but rejected as too white. No one bothered to mention to the millions of young athletic "wannabe's" that only a minute percentage of people, either white or black, makes it to the big show. Millions are left behind with nothing but a good jump shot to show for all their years practicing. Without education to give them an alternative, they go back to the streets and look for other ways to prove their manhood. Then you find the development of men with the attitude "My dog is badder than your dog" and spontaneous dogfights in an alley, either for a few bucks, or the prestige of having such a bad-ass dog.

* I'm sure there are quite a number of athletes who are glad they aren't treated the way Vick's dogs were treated after an underperforming season. However, if Beckham doesn't get his act together soon, there might be some people willing to give him a "slight correction."

No comments: