For more than a decade now, as an avid sports fan and member of the sports media, I’ve chronicled in print many of the changes at ESPN that have made the network older and more tired than a Chris Berman player nickname.
The latest example of journalistic dreck seeping from Bristol, Conn., has leaked its way into the Sept. 5 edition of ESPN The Magazine. Looking for another way to capitalize on Michael Vick’s infamy, while simultaneously stoking the ever-smoldering fires of race relations, ESPN asked multimedia personality Toure to write a piece entitled, “What if Michael Vick were white?”
Vick’s story is obviously a compelling one, having gone from $100 million Atlanta Falcon to convicted dog-torturer, to federal prison inmate, to MVP candidate with the Philadelphia Eagles, all in a six-year time span. The entire saga was well-chronicled last season, including in this very space.
So why the new angle based solely on his race, ESPN? What new ground are you hoping to cover by painting the convicted-felon-turned-Pro-Bowler as a white man, complete with the computer-generated picture of Vick in Caucasian skin?
The suggestion that Vick might somehow have been treated differently by the law, the fans or NFL officials if his career had followed the very same path as a white quarterback is, well, beyond the pale.
While the ESPN article does go to some length to join in the condemnation of Vick’s crimes, the writer also takes great pains to point out that said crimes might never have been committed if Vick had grown up as a white kid in a white family.
Which tells us what? That dog-fighting and dog-killing are black-specific crimes, and that his race somehow explains the allure of such barbaric behavior for Vick?
On the field, the plight of black quarterbacks in the past 40 years or so is well-known. For decades, there was a lingering perception in the minds of at least some NFL front-office types that black athletes didn’t have the mental capacity to play the position at the highest levels. There is also a long list of successful black QBs who have disproven such ridiculous stereotypes, which should make the question of race when it comes to evaluating signal-callers a moot point.
Apparently it hasn’t.
In fact, analysts still have to be careful when criticizing the mechanics or potential of a young black QB such as the Raiders’ Terrelle Pryor in today’s NFL, for fear of racial-stereotyping accusations.
Don’t believe me? Let’s flip the script for ESPN’s next in-depth piece of drivel on the race of quarterbacks:
“What if Tim Tebow were black?”
Tebow has been absolutely destroyed by NFL analysts on the total sports network and beyond. Merrill Hoge and Boomer Esiason, among others, have shown no mercy whatsoever in discussing Tebow’s prospects of ever becoming an NFL starter.
The criticism, for what it’s worth, is probably accurate.
However, Tebow, entering his second season, has only started three games for the Broncos and is listed as low as third on Denver’s depth chart.
The question, following ESPN’s line of thinking, is whether or not the NFL pundits would be as aggressive and disparaging if Tebow were such a highly publicized and severely flawed third-string black quarterback.
And if you’re looking at former Raider JaMarcus Russell, who has been attacked for his poor performance as an all-time NFL draft bust, at least Russell played his way into the criticism. Tebow is brand new.
The bottom line is that Tebow’s skin has nothing to do with telling his story of success or failure. And neither should Vick’s.
I’d like to say that ESPN is better than this.
I’d like to.
Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.