As Rush Limbaugh frequently says of liberal witch-hunts, it’s not whether one is guilty or not that counts; it’s the seriousness of the charge. The world of sports is unfortunately rife with charges, criminal and otherwise almost daily, and many of these are symptomatic of problems in our society in general. But the latest incident, involving Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, is especially instructive as it calls to mind some important ones.
Accusations of racism, of course, fill the air, as though Vick is being singled out and pre-judged because he is black. This is as usual, a load of nonsense, as recent headlines indicate. Think of the pre-trial media condemnation of the Duke Lacrosse players, or the current pillorying of NBA Ref Tim Donaghy to the extent that Donaghy is being encouraged to seek police protection for his alleged crimes?
Then there’s the ongoing saga of Barry Bonds, a tale in which the tail of racism has been wagged ad nauseam, while we have lately been treated to a “scientific study” questioning the racism of NBA referees. Meantime, we have been relieved, at least temporarily, of the on-air presence of Don Imus, whose downfall — which could have been the result of any number of justifiable reasons — was his perceived racism. With all of this presumed racism against black athletes, it’s a wonder that many continue to earn eight-figure salaries alongside their white and Latino brethren.
Which recalls the recent comments by Gary Sheffield explaining the lack of black players in baseball. It seems that it’s about “being able to tell [Latin players] what to do — being able to control them. Where I’m from, you can’t control us. These are the things my race demands. So, if you’re equally good as this Latin player, guess who’s going to get sent home? I know a lot of players that are home now can outplay a lot of these guys.” So now the charges include the stereotyping of Latinos as “controllable”? Sounds racist to me.
However, with the Vick flap, the racist rap is particularly flimsy. Nike — an entity no one could accuse of racism — has suspended the release of the “Air Zoom Vick V” sneaker, saying the company “is concerned by the serious and highly disturbing allegations made against Michael Vick.” They are not, however, concerned enough to pull their “Vick Hero” T-shirt line from store shelves. No, the almighty dollar knows no skin color. Neither do stupidity and irresponsibility.
Last year, Vick made an obscene gesture to fans in the Georgia Dome and excused himself saying, “I don’t know where it came from, but the people who know me know that’s not me and that’s not my character.” This was eerily reminiscent of two-bit comic Michael Richards, who launched into a racial tirade and excused himself saying, “I’m not a racist, that’s what so insane about this, and yet it’s said, it comes through.” One can’t help being reminded of the Alan Jay Lerner ditty, “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You, When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life?”
Fortunately there are some out there who understand the divergence between charges of racism and abhorrent behavior. St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell knows where much of the blame lies:
The problem is the hijacking of African-American culture by the hip-hop generation that has helped glorify every rotten, foul and disgusting racial stereotype it took generations to eradicate. The minstrels used to show up in black face, shuckin’ and jivin’ like Amos and Andy or Stepin Fetchit. Now they come in baggy pants sagging over their butts, glamorizing thug life and prison fashion, legitimizing derogatory racial insults into the mainstream, and convincing an entire generation that this is the measure of true blackness and anyone who bucks this system is either a racist, hopelessly out of touch or a sad Uncle Tom.
Mr. Burwell is both courageous and correct. But it is not only African-American culture that is in trouble. All of America strains under the burden of a kind of bread and circuses mentality. Blood sport does not exist only in the sphere of dog fighting. In fact, we seem to prefer human gladiators. Witness such popular TV fare as Survivor, The Jerry Springer Show, and the execrable Spike TV; throw into the mix the marketing of NFL-endorsed video games that feature sickening violence and filthy rap music lyrics and you get an idea of what the Roman Empire must have looked like shortly before its fall.
The barbarians are at the gates, folks. It’s up to us whether or not we fight them off.