Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The truth about the bias of the sports fan and the return of Michael Vick

I've racked my brain trying to figure out the connection that some dog lovers have with seeing Michael Vick suffer. Some hardcore realities have set in considering the times that we know live in. First, lets establish that Vick made his own bed. Lets also remember that the guy virtually threw away 130 million dollars. He's lost all of his endorsement and will make peanuts in comparison to what his original contract was.

He lied to his employers about the pending charges, spurning an opportunity to tell the truth when asked. But now that he's out of prison what does that have to do with him picking up the pieces to his life? As a resident of the south, I've always heard that this region was the "bible belt".

Some belt. It's not made out of the genuine leather that most belts have in scripted on the inside. (Let that marinate a little) One of the key lessons that seems to be a recurring theme in the bible, is the notion of "redemption" and "forgiveness". We rarely apply that to public figures because we "worship" them so. Guys like Ray Lewis went through fraternity hazing just to repair his image. He benefited from playing in the league when Paul Tagliabue was the commissioner. But to "Ray Ray's" credit he took responsibility for his actions, virtually making most people forget that horrible incident during Superbowl 34. The dynamic of the position plays a huge role in comparison to Lewis being a linebacker and Vick playing Quarterback. But should that really make much of a difference? NO

Here's the three biggest reason why sports fans are biased in their support for players getting second chances.

1. People support who they Identify with. Michael Vick never really appealed to the "average" sports fan.

On April 21st 2001, Michael Vick got drafted number one overall, ushering in a fear that most people will never admit. Some of Atlanta's fan base was uncomfortable day one with the "image" of Michael Vick. At the time he sported "corn rows", baggy clothes, and an entourage that would make HBO blush. That's why many people in Atlanta loved him. Let's face it that's why some people hated him at hello too. Of course he became a star but to the chagrin of most who wanted to see him fail. Sure we appreciated some of his dazzling exploits on the field but deep down inside we all had an idea that it was only a matter of time before the chickens would home to roost. Maybe you're wondering about this fear that I mentioned.

Mike Vick was hailed as one of the quarterbacks that would finally make the "hybrid" quarterback the norm of the NFL. Most people will never admit it but virtually all of the skill positions on both sides of the ball are dominated by blacks. The quarterback position has been the unspoken holy grail since the leagues inception. Honestly that applies for all levels of the game throughout its history. Sure that sounds like complete hogwash to some but to others that know the under belly of hate in America very well, WE know its true.

2. Feel good comeback stories are only for guys who pass the smell test of "image".

Who can forget the alcoholism of Brett Farve and Kerry Collins?(Actually most people have) Brett Farve is a God to some in the south because he's a good ole country boy. He wears tight wranglers, farms, chews tobacco and loves country music. He's a tough guy that fits the mold of the macho man (not randy savage) who has "survived" life's biggest challenges. The people who "identify" with Farve the most, rarely speak about his past addiction to pain killers and his intense love for booze. Some Farve fans are Rush Limbaugh fans also. They to closely "identify" with Limbaugh. They still faithfully listen to good ole Rush. They didn't bat an eye or turn their radio station when the news came out about his drug abuse. In fact the guy is more popular than ever. See the connection? Sure you do but you'll ignore because you're biased.

Kerry Collins found redemption after being a horrible teammate. He once called one of his teammates a "nigger" and even showed up drunk in a fur coat to the airport before a road game. Kerry's career eventually recovered. He led the 2000 Giants to the Superbowl. After stints with the Oakland Raiders and New Orleans Saints, Collins rebounded yet again, leading the 2008 Tennessee Titans to the playoffs. Not bad for a guy who's had such dark days in his career. A change a scenery and being in a place where people "identify" with you helps out a lot.

Collins is Brett Farve 2.0 in Nashville. I know what you're thinking. Steve McNair was a country boy and we loved him too. Charlie Pride is country singer but most country fans love Hank Williams Jr. more. Just like I love MC Hammer more than Vanilla Ice. For the record, McNair would've never worn tight wrangler Jeans and a cowboy hat. Tight Jeans and hip hop culture don't mix remember. Vick may have a better chance in an NFL city that is desperate for something good to happen and "identifies" with him too. Those cities are San Fransisco, Washington, D.C. Seattle, and Houston.

3. If Michael Vick didn't personally kill or fight our dogs then why are we really that upset? Could it be we're just like him?

Think about it. Most people who are in support of additional suspension time are claiming to be righteous people who believe in "following the rules". In the real world convicted felons don't have to show contrition to an employer. It's an uphill battle for convicts to prove to employers that they've changed but at least they don't have to sit down with the CEO and show "contrition". Contrition should be shown by action and not press conferences. Regular joe blow ex convicts don't get press conferences or baby kissing moments. Sure rich athletes get way with murder(literally) but in Vick's case it was dogs, Not people.

We're no better than his crimes if we take personal satisfaction at seeing him suffer further humiliation and punishment. Sure you don't have children and your pets are your loved ones. I get it but that's a little weird in my book. Criminal behavior in the NFL isn't good P.R. but it is overblown. Out of 1700 NFL players, less than 2% of them get in any real legal trouble. So is it fair to judge the league on 2% percent of the bad while casting aside the majority of the league? Sure let's be cynical for a moment. Some of them may not get caught but can we say the same thing about sports fans who live double lives that might be worthy of jail time. How many drunk people leave NFL stadiums all across the country drunker than Cootey Brown on most Sundays? (Never met Cootey he's Hootie's cousin)

My issue with the decision to suspend Vick is with Goodell's treatment of Spygate. There was enough evidence to suspend Bill Belichick but it didn't happen because the evidence was destroyed. That was straight from the Richard Nixon playbook. Spygate was a case of Goodell abusing executive privilege while protecting his reputation as a no nonsense business "professional" to the public.

Since most of us are sheep we will never make that connection due to our affinity for taking pleasure in seeing certain people "get what they deserve" while executives get a slap on the wrist. The Patriots organization embodied that slap on the wrist. Donte Stallworth, Mike Vick, Matt Jones, Chris Henry, and Tank Johnson were dealt with accordingly but the Patriots got off. That's a microcosm of the morons that defend certain side effects of bad free market capitalism. Is it football season yet?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Top 5 reasons why Steve Mcnair's Career is Hall of Fame worthy.

Many people from all walks of life are shocked at the sudden passing of Steve McNair. An act of senseless violence as claimed the life of a man who represented the hopes and dreams of a lot people. The great American poet Langston Hughes once described how dreams could either fester like a sore or be defferred for future generations to inherit. For McNair, growing up in poverty in Mississipi embodies those words. Kind of like one of his custom made suits he used to wear at some of his press conferences.

McNair's rise to football greatness is akin to America's love and admiration for Joe Louis, Muhammed Ali, Bill Russell and Jim Brown. Secondly, Black America's admiration for trailblazing athletes past and present was about showing America that we belonged and deserved a chance to compete in every facet of American society. With every knockout, homerun, basket scored or touchdown caught, black people tried to match those accomplishments in everyday life by performing their jobs a little bit better. Now that I've establihed that picture in your mind consider these key factors in why I believe Steve McNair is Hall of fame Worthy.

1. Steve survived the hopelessness of poverty that very few working class Americans rarely escape. Viewing this sentiment threw the eyes of the social order of Generation X, McNair actually made good in a world that expected far less of him.

The children born in the decade of the seventies inherited a very different America. History will look back on generation X as the post civil rights era of sports, education, cultural and socioeconomic opportunity and progress. One could expect to hear the many success stories from all walks of life. For all of the crazy and alarming statistics that defined the youth of generation X, Steve McNair survived the rat race of the late eighties and early ninties that saw many young black males make some bad choices. Steve McNair made good on those words of Langston Hughes.

It is what drove him to become one of the all time leaders in offense in college football history. It was the spark behind his many community service missions in Misssissipii and Tennessee. McNair could never be put in the category that Jim Brown attributed to Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. His humbled beginnings in life reinforced the responsibility he took for those who were following in his footsteps.

2. His uncanny ability and desire to prove his doubters wrong.

To the untrained and uneducated eye, the plight of the "black quarterback" is an ignored and untold story. Most people in the 21st century believe that this story isn't relevant in modern times considering that so many young men are now getting an equal chance at playing quarterback at the professional and collegiate level. I anticipate certain forms of ignorance when dissecting this portion of Steve's story. Even I have forgotten the orgins of McNair's career. In particular the things that made him special. When it comes to those who have a near sighted view of the plight of Mcnair's desire to play Quarterback at the major college level, May I submit to you that many young black men were denied the opportunity to play quarterback.

Most of them were denied because most people opposed seeing black men in leadership positions. The quarterback position as long been a defacto extention of the head coach's authority. Given the oral and written history of America, some will still vehemently oppose the relevance of this part of Steve's extraordinary story. They will echo the code words of the men who made these decisions.(boosters and businessmen who really controlled programs) They will foolishly dismiss the cultural imbalance that America is still trying to reconcile.

They will say what's the big deal. He made it to the NFL right? Right but if we tell his story only through the lense of this perspective then the development of his abilities both on and off the field will be celebrated incorrectly. His determination not to switch positions did eventually land him a scholarship to Alcorn State. Most major BCS schools used a bait and switch during the recruiting process. They were told that they would get a chance to compete for a spot at quarterback only to show up on campus not even on the depth chart. The only schools that would strongly consider black men for the quarterback position were SWAC schools, a few 1-AA programs, option style programs and small junior colleges.

McNair was star in 3 sports and was one of the top secondary players in the state of Mississipi. In classic McNair fashion he went to the school that would give him an opportunity to continue to be the leader he knew he could be. His career at Alcorn State ended with him finishing third in the heisman voting, accounting for more than 16,ooo yards of total offense and having a better career in the NFL than the two men (Ki Jana Carter and Rashann Salaam) who finished ahead of him in the 1994 heisman trophy race.

Sure there has been examples of young men who got the chance to play quarterback at big time programs but they are few and far in between. J.C. Watts starred at Oklahoma, Randall Cunningham at UNLV, Tony Dungy at Minnesota, Warren Moon at the University of Washington, Tommie Frazier at the University of Nebraska, and Charlie Ward at Florida State. But Only two of those guys mentioned got the chance to compete at the NFL level in generation X's lifetime.

Those guys are Randall Cunningham and Warren Moon. Moon spent 6 years in Canada before finally getting a chance. Frazier never got the opportunity due to injuries and he also played in the the option offense which rarely featured his strong arm. J.C. Watts was pigeonholed also as an option Quarterback as well. Like Moon he ended up taking his game to the CFL. Dungy never recieved a shot though he ran a pro style offense at the University of Minnesota. Ironically its the same offense that he eventually hired Tom Moore to run in Indianapolis during his coaching career. Charlie Ward opted to play in the NBA but his abilities to play at the NFL level were clouded in the doubt and biased opinions of most pro scouts.

Steve Mcnair's career is a culmination of all of the many men that never got the equal shot to compete, succeed or even fail at the opportunity to play one of the most glamorized positions in football. Chris Carter once described the sting of being made to switch positions without getting the opportunity to develop or show what he could do. Carter eventually became an all pro reciever in the NFL but his words on the show Bob Costas Now were pretty revealing and shed light on the thousands of young men who may experienced the same thing.

3. Mcnair's career NFL numbers may not jump off the page but his game was bigger than statistical records.

Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young and McNair are the only quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 30,000 yards and run for at least 3000 yards in their career. Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Lynn Swann and Gale Sayers are all hall of famers. Judging strictly by their numbers, Bradshaw's completion percentage, passing yards and interceptions are pretty atrocious in comparison to the high expectations of quarterbacks. Aikman's completion percentage is really great but he is in the company of McNair when it comes to passing yards (He has just over 30,000 as well.)

Staubach only passed for 22,700 yards. Steve Young played with some great 49ers teams that featured the greatest reciever to ever have caught a football in Jerry Rice. Swann and Bradshaw had the Steel Curtain to back them up. Gayle Sayers gained less than 5,000 yards as a running back and he's in Canton. Lynn Swann is hall of famer but never once broke 1,000 yards recieving in a season. Swann also has only 54 career touchdown receptions. Did anybody notice how long it took Art Monk to get inducted into the pro football hall of fame? I don't mean to pull a Andre Rison but shouldn't the hall of fame change its name to the hall of subjection and statistical bias?

4. The Hall of Fame is about reputation, public persona, and playing with other great players

Partially the reason that the Hall of Fame statistical bottom feeders are in because of who they played with and some special talent that they had that made their careers standout. Swann had that unbelieveable catch in the superbowl. Bradshaw had that overhyped game in the 1980 superbowl. Sayers was the Devin Hester of the 60's. Aikman and Staubach were the quarterbacks of America's team and both led their teams to superbowls. McNair led his team to division crowns, 2 AFC championship appearances, a superbowl and he was Co-MVP. He performed in the clutch and most importantly he played hurt. Not only did he play hurt but he performed under pressure inspite of the injury. His reputation for playing hurt is his trump card for the hall of fame.

Very few quarterbacks had the guts to play the game the way that he played it. He played with Eddie George and Frank Wychek but will anybody remember Kevin Dyson outside of his catch that was one yard short in superbowl 34?(The titans should've taken Randy Moss) Will anyboby besides Titans fans remember Chris Sanders, Justin McCareins, Derrick Mason and Drew Bennett? The offense that McNair played in hardly featured all of his skills. Plus he handed the ball off to Eddie George 300 plus times at least 5 times during his most productive years. If Dan Marino played in this offense he would've slit his wrist.(Marino never played with a 1,000 yard rusher)

5. Mcnair's career success impacted the perceptions of Pro Scouts that believed that quarterbacks from major conferences were better prepared to play in the NFL.

Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwitch, Tavarius Jackson, Tony Romo, Vince Young, Donovan McNabb, Josh Freeman, Alex Smith, Michael Vick, Jemarcus Russell and Jason Campbell all owe a tip of the hat to McNair's career. In particular the quarterbacks who were just considered "athletes" were especially impacted. (Cue up Tim Tebow) Steve bore the brunt of the early criticisms of dual threat quarterbacks in the modern era. When McNair was drafted third overall in 1995, Noone from the SWAC had ever been drafted that high and certainly not at quarterback. Doug Williams was a late first round pick of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers but he was considered to be the protypical signal caller.

McNair's early progress opened the door for Donovan Mcnabb to be taken second overall in 1999. Michael Vick was taken number one overall in 2001. Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwitch were first round picks out of Marshall. Steve McNair quieted the critics about his percieved intelligence and aptitude for the game by showing he could throw the ball down the field when he had to. He showed that black men could be the face of an NFL franchise, something that some quietly resented and doubted.

Even when questions from the local and national media got tough, he never backed down from the challenge. He never went to the coaching staff and demanded that the offense feature his arm more. He respected Jeff Fisher's philosophy. HE exceeded the expectations in the realm of what he was asked to do. A player is subject to the system and players that he shares the field of battle with. In the words of the sports illustrated article printed in the fall of 1994, Get that man a seat in the Hall. Steve is a legend in my eyes. His leadership in the Nashville community will be missed. May he rest in peace.