Hating The Game: Did Michael Vick Sellout?


"First thing we’ve got to get Colin to do is cut his hair."

Michael Vick offered Colin Kaepernick some unsolicited advice as a guest on Fox Sports 1’s “Speak For Yourself”. After listening to him say, “I really think the stand that he took has nothing to do with him not having a job playing in the National Football League right now.” I was disappointed. Michael Vick was the previous owner of the shoes Colin now fills. There will be over 100 quarterbacks competing for jobs before rosters are cut and Vick doesn't think Kaepernick is better than half of them? Does he really believe 32 head coaches, 32 general managers, and 32 owners simultaneously came to the conclusion he couldn't play anymore?

Vick's words opened him up to ridicule from some of his most loyal supporters in the black community, but calling Michael Vick a sellout does nothing to address the root of Colin's problem. The NFL is ran by people who have very little, if any, vested interest in the issues he was protesting. In the NFL, the only Black Lives that Matter are the ones that are profitable. If you can run a 4.3 40-yard dash and keep your mouth shut you can do almost anything and maintain employment. 

"Listen, I’m not up here to try to be politically correct. Even if he puts cornrows in there. I don’t think he should represent himself in that way (wearing the Afro). Just the hairstyle. Just go clean-cut. You know, why not? You're already dealing with a lot.

The NFL is a meritocracy as long as you don't hurt the bottom line. Kaepernick would have been better off had he beaten up a pregnant white woman. Rapist and domestic abusers are welcomed back to the NFL because their crimes don't cost the league revenue or challenge its authority. When a player, irrespective of race, beats a woman, she's the victim. Colin's protest caused a public outcry that victimized the league. NFL owners don't suffer losses well and aren't willing to face economic backlash for signing an unrepentant Kaepernick. No one knows this better than Michael Vick.

Michael Vick had to kiss the proverbial ring to get his second chance. I'm not sure Kaepernick is willing to (publicly) do the same; his circumstances are a lot different than Vick's were. Vick was hemorrhaging money due to the termination of his endorsement deals and his Atlanta Falcons contract. When Vick filed for bankruptcy protection he owed his creditors 18 million dollars. Kaepernick, who hasn't made as much money as Vick did before his troubles, is in far better financial shape. Vick had no choice but to acquiesce. He was never going to come through his bankruptcy and get his life back together without the NFL. 

“I just think perception and image is everything. This is not the Colin Kaepernick that we've known since he entered the National Football League. I’m just going off my personal experiences. Listen, I love the guy to death. But I want him to also succeed on and off the field. This has to be a start for him."

Michael Vick gave Colin Kaepernick the kind of practical advice any public relations expert or image consultant would give him, but he did it in the company of a toxic sports personality. Jason Whitlock is less popular in the black community than Diabetes. Every few weeks he gives #BlackTwitter a reason to hate him. Vick's statements, if made to someone whose commitment to the black community is unquestionable, wouldn't have been so controversial. Vick never condemned Kaepernick for his protest. He acknowledged the reason for his protest and thanked him for doing it. Vick's advice, however pragmatic, calls for Colin's Submission. If Colin crawls back and begs for forgiveness he could make a lot of money, but that money will cost him his integrity. 

It's easy to attack Michael Vick's​ words from the comfort of a smartphone or tablet. Michael Vick was in debt, had a family to provide for, and had millions of dollars on the line. He gave the right answer for someone in his situation. If Colin wants to wear another NFL jersey he probably knows he has to “play the game”. This is unpopular, it's unfair, but it's the reality in the NFL. A man who kneeled to take a stand might have to bow to take a snap. This isn't right. He is being punished. We can hate the player, but we should probably hate the game that asks brothers to scratch when it doesn't itch.




Blacks Only?


The absence of white bodies doesn’t make a space black only. People of color have been consciously and unconsciously conditioned to see themselves as less than. Physically separating oneself from white bodies does nothing to deal with the psychological damage that comes from being inculcated with the myth of white supremacy. In every black only setting lives the remnants of an ideology that formed the desire to meet outside of the white gaze.
This paradox is often overlooked. I’m not going to attempt to solve a problem this complex in a few short paragraphs, but we need to look at this issue from multiple angles. Black people seeking to create spaces where our thoughts and feelings are a priority harms no one, yet this enrages white conservatives, isolates white liberals and progressives, and hurts black integrationists irrespective of their political leanings.
Many conservatives see black only spaces as a sign of racial hostility, but de facto black only spaces have existed since slavery. Slaves would steal away in the night to fellowship without scrutiny or violence. Today black only spaces are the result of choices rather than a historical necessity. The desire to decenter whiteness from discussions affecting people of color isn’t the same as government policies designed to limit access to opportunity.



White America is in no way negatively impacted by black only spaces. Contrary to popular belief, black only spaces aren’t a form of segregation. When an assembly ends the participants go back into a world shaped by the idea that their skin color is problematic. Simply put, black only spaces are places where black identity and intellect is affirmed. These aren’t “safe spaces”, if you make a weak argument or derail a discussion your feelings won’t be spared. Black only spaces aren’t about running from conflict; at their best, they’re about engaging conflict with people who’ve been negatively affected by the subject matter being discussed.

There have been white liberals and progressives who’ve felt betrayed by black only spaces. There are white allies who’ve worked incredibly hard to get outside of themselves to see what America looks like to people of color. I applaud their efforts and count them as allies. Ultimately, it will be white allies who stop the normalization of racism, but this reality doesn’t give them carte blanche access to black ideas and emotions. Imagine a man so committed women’s liberation that he commits himself to destroying overt and covert systems that oppress and disadvantage women, would his agency negate his manhood? Would he be allowed into the women’s locker room at the gym?
Talking about black liberation without constantly having to remind white allies of their goodness is almost impossible. Too often discussions about systemic racism get hijacked by well-meaning allies who feel the need to make sure they aren’t indicted for the crimes of others. This unintentional microaggression moves the focus of discussion from black liberation to white absolution and we’re not here for that.
Lastly, there are factions inside the black community who find black only spaces problematic. Many of them are so assimilated that they truly believe the path to black liberation is paved with conformity and kowtowing. Some of the most sophisticated defenders and deniers of white supremacist ideologies have black skin. The acceptable negro approach works on an individual basis, but it does nothing to liberate the masses. The irony of black opposition to spaces centered around blackness is that it usually comes from black people who are minorities in their professional lives and isolationist in their personal lives.
In a room full of black people, ideas grounded in white supremacist ideology are still represented. This is a fact no amount of physical separation can deny. I don’t care how “woke” someone is; once they embrace the need to constantly remind everyone they’re “woke” they’ve exhibited a symptom of the trauma they think they’ve overcome. People who don’t smoke don’t walk around announcing it every day. The only space we can truly make black only is the space between our ears and that’s much more difficult than segregating an auditorium for a few hours.

Who Will Be The Next #_________?

Acquittals for killing unarmed people of color will be to this generation what stock footage of police using water hoses and siccing dogs on protesters was to the 1960’s. Almost 54 years after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, unemployment in many black communities is twice the national average, and law enforcement continues to disproportionately use lethal force against people of color. For all of America’s talk about racial progress the underlying disparities that necessitated the original gathering remain in place.

When America is forced to deal with race the conversations have no thematic unity. There are too many people in positions of power defending the status quo while those suffering its affects are questioning it. There are people so invested in the flag and the myth of America that they willfully ignore or disconnect the historical context events happen in. There is no gap between Jimmie Lee Jackson and Philando Castile.

America’s need to reflexively point to past achievements in race relations is a form of generational absolution. Admitting things were worse does nothing to dismantle the racism in our midst. I’m not dismissing the progress we’ve made, but the truth is: we are still as sick as the ghosts of our pasts.

After an officer is acquitted for killing an unarmed person of color social media and the blogosphere explode with new articles chronicling the pain endured by the victim’s family, and the distrust between the community and the police. Brilliant thinkers and writers parse the nuances of the latest case versus the last case in an effort to show how juries keep getting it wrong, but nothing changes. Nothing changes because predominantly white juries often go out of their way to give an officer every benefit of the doubt.

Too many Americans have a Spaghetti Western view of the world where the cowboys are all good guys and the Indians are all bad. Even when a murder is captured on video jurors find a way to sympathize with the fear of an officer (with the gun) instead of the humanity of the man or woman on the other end of it.

We are in desperate need of more cure and less diagnosis. Anyone who cares about these issues understands what’s wrong. Better training and body cameras may limit the number of people shot, but they can’t pick fair-minded juries or assure that prosecuting attorneys will put the best case forward.

America’s race problems are exasperated by a litany of false equivalences and illogical positions. Too many Americans, irrespective of race, uncritically accept (either-or) propositions that further divide us. It’s possible to say BLACK LIVES MATTER as a close ended declaration. The call to end police brutality and mass incarceration isn’t the same thing as wanting police officers harmed.

Calls for justice are not provocations, yet pointing out systemic failures has the effect of gaslighting some reactionaries. This is the minefield racial dialog takes place in. Too often people of color understand white silence as tacit approval of the behavior they see instead of a lack of courage or necessary vocabulary to engage in the conversation. This never-ending cycle breeds distrust.

Marching for justice and writing about justice will never produce enough justice. It can take decades for a society to even agree that a particular form of evil is wrong- much less work to fix it. There were enough Americans outraged by the images they saw in the 1960’s to register a dissent and force a change. I’m not advocating for another dose of “We Shall Overcome”. Those days are over, but we have to put more pressure on the District and Commonwealth Attorneys, and the juries who continue to fail us. We have to create an atmosphere so full of commonsense and righteous morality that the injustices we see can’t be explained away by people wanting to maintain their credibility.