In the interest of full disclosure, I am a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan. For most of my adult life I watched football but didn’t have a real team that I followed consistently. On any given Sunday I’d just root for whatever team had a Black coach or a Black quarterback. So a couple of years ago, when Rush Limbaugh attacked Eagles QB Donovan McNabb, I knew that was going to be my team and I haven’t missed a game on either television or radio in about five years. Two weeks ago, the Eagles shocked the sports world and a lot of mainstream media by signing former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick to their roster. Vick had just been released after spending two years in jail for running a dog fighting ring along with some of his relatives. In addition to having lost over $130 million in pay and being suspended from the NFL, he’s become public enemy No. 1 in the eyes of group of Americans who think his crimes are so heinous that he doesn’t deserve to play professional football again.
The anger towards Vick by animal rights activists and even a few sportscasters isn’t entirely without merit. The guy was pretty foolish, as a high profile quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons one has to figure that he had better investment opportunities offered to him than dog fighting, seeing as how it’s both illegal and morally contemptible to most people in this country. Vick supposedly electrocuted, drowned and suffocated dogs that were no longer considered “productive” (i.e.: they couldn’t fight anymore) in addition to lying to various people including federal agents about his activities. So while Vick has made some mistakes, the anger towards him just seems too intense, similar to the anger you see at town halls across America about Obama’s health care plans.
I know that right now some of you are thinking, “How dare he compare Michael Vick to President Obama. Vick is a criminal and Obama’s a duly elected president!” In the minds of all too many Americans, on the right and the left, there really isn’t all that much of a difference. The core of the anger is the sense that these are men who are in positions they don’t deserve, because of the color of their skin. Nobody screams about Black running backs getting in trouble, but a Black quarterback is still a rarity in the league and something that many fans still wrestle with. We have tons of Black congressmen and even some governors but a Black president is a bit too far for many Americans.
Michael Vick killed dogs, which is really no worse than any meat-processing factory in America and nobody is claiming that those people don’t have the right to earn a living. PETA’s own “Meet you Meat” videos show how living cows and pigs are hung upside down and their throats slit so they can thrash and bleed out by the hundreds in factories every day. Any zoologist will tell you that a pig is just as smart as a dog, and a Hindu will tell you that a cow is sacred but apparently we can pick and chose our morality when deep down we just want to punish someone. If you eat meat, you’re just as complicit as the guys who worked with Michael Vick.
In a similar vein, the Bush administration wire-tapped American citizens, led us to a war under false pretenses, showed utter incompetence during a national disaster and ran up the largest budget deficit in American history. Where were these right-wing protesters over the last eight years? Yet somehow taxes under Obama and his attempt at creating universal health care are the beginnings of an America dictatorship? The fact is that there are some people in this country that will never be entirely comfortable with a Black quarterback in charge of multi-million dollar sports franchise, just like they’ll never be comfortable with a Black man running the most powerful nation on earth. The mistakes that these men make, or will make, will always be magnified and exaggerated because someone out there is looking for an excuse to lash out at a world that’s changing faster than they want it to. Either way, none of these men are going anywhere anytime soon, and their best chance against this anger is success. McNabb if you’re listening, nothing would do the world better than to get two Black quarterbacks to the Super Bowl this year, just like Obama, I’m counting on you to make the protesters eat their words.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)