Posted tagged ‘ESPN Magazine’

ESPN the Magazine: What if Michael Vick was white?

August 30, 2011

Saw this story on ESPN.com and I think it is a must read for football players and future sociologist out there who want to understand more about race in sports. This story appears in the Sept. 5 issue of ESPN The Magazine and is written by Touré…

(Photo illustration by D'arcy Hyde for ESPN The Magazine )

WHEN MICHAEL VICK PLAYS, I see streetball. I don’t just mean that sort of football where you have to count to four-Mississippi before you can rush the quarterback, nearly everything breaks down and it’s all great fun. I also mean street basketball. Vick’s style reminds me of Allen Iverson — the speed, the court sense, the sharp cuts, the dekes, the swag. In those breathtaking moments when the Eagles QB abandons the pocket and takes off, it feels as if he’s thumbing his nose at the whole regimented, militaristic ethos of the game.

All of that is why, to me, Vick seems to have a deeply African-American approach to the game. I’m not saying that a black QB who stands in the pocket ain’t playing black. I’m saying Vick’s style is so badass, so artistic, so fluid, so flamboyant, so relentless — so representative of black athletic style — that if there were a stat for swagger points, Vick would be the No. 1 quarterback in the league by far.

Race is an undeniable and complex element of Vick’s story, both because of his style as well as the rarity of black QBs in the NFL. A decade after he became the first black QB to be drafted No. 1 overall, about one in five of the league’s passers is African-American, compared with two-thirds of all players. But after his arrest for dogfighting, so many people asked: Would a white football player have gotten nearly two years in prison for what Vick did to dogs?

This question makes me cringe. It is so facile, naive, shortsighted and flawed that it is meaningless. Whiteness comes with great advantages, but it’s not a get-out-of-every-crime-free card. Killing dogs is a heinous crime that disgusts and frightens many Americans. I’m certain white privilege would not be enough to rescue a white NFL star caught killing dogs.

The problem with the “switch the subject’s race to determine if it’s racism” test runs much deeper than that. It fails to take into account that switching someone’s race changes his entire existence. In making Vick white, you have him born to different parents. That alone sets his life trajectory in an entirely different direction. Thus when this hypothetical white Michael Vick … wait, I can’t even continue that sentence in good faith. I mean, who would this white Vick be? That person is unknowable. When you alter his race, it’s like those Back to the Future movies where someone goes back in time, inadvertently changes one small thing about his parents’ dating history and then the person starts to disappear. If Vick had been born to white parents, you wouldn’t even be reading this right now. That Vick would have had radically different options in life compared with the Vick who grew up in the projects of Newport News, Va., where many young black men see sports as the only way out.

This is not to say there aren’t insights to be gained from hypotheticals. One pertinent question: Would a white kid have been introduced to dogfighting at a young age and have it become normalized to the extent that he builds it into his life after he joins the NFL? It’s possible, but it’s far less likely because what made Vick stand out among dogfighters is less race than class. The deep pockets of an NFL star led to a kennel that was too big not to fail eventually. But if it did, though, would this white kid have been busted? Remember, it wasn’t suspicion of dogfighting that started the investigation that put Vick in jail. It was that element that we’ve all seen hold back or bring down so many athletes from the hood — the entourage. Vick’s cousin Davon Boddie was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell in Hampton, Va. When police asked him for his address, he led them to the home where Bad Newz Kennels was located. After that, Vick never had a chance.

Here’s another question: If Vick grew up with the paternal support that white kids are more likely to have (72 percent percent of black children are born to unwed mothers compared with 29 percent of white children), would he have been involved in dogfighting? I ask this not to look for an excuse but to explore the roots of his behavior. Vick’s stunningly stupid moral breakdown with respect to dogs is certainly related to the culture of the world he grew up in, which he says fully embraced dogfighting. But it’s also related to the household he grew up in.

Vick’s father, Michael Boddie, was not a positive influence on him growing up. Boddie admitted to The Washington Post that he was a cocaine user and had been high and drunk around young Vick. He says he often prepared the family garage so Vick could have pit bull fights there. Boddie’s account is disputed by a family friend, who says Vick’s mother would not have allowed that. Either way, at some point in Vick’s youth, his father became estranged from the family. This breakdown of Vick’s paternal relationship is a pattern that’s all too common among black men of his generation. Too many are left to define manhood on their own, so they gravitate toward the most charismatic and inspiring men in their world. Sometimes those men are gritty local sports coaches who teach them the value of hard work, but sometimes they’re ghetto celebrities who are unsavory role models with bad habits.

Ultimately, there is no separating Vick from his circumstances: his race, parents, economics and opportunities. Alter any of those elements and everything about him and how the world sees him would be unrecognizable.

So let’s look at him a different way. Let’s see him as someone in the third act of the epic movie that is his life, leading a team that many expect to see in the Super Bowl. Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” is playing underneath because the humbled protagonist has finally overcome his personal demons and has begun living up to his athletic promise. And to those who believe we should judge a man by how he responds when dealing with the worst life has to offer — with how he climbs after he hits rock bottom — Michael Vick has become heroic.

And that has nothing to do with race.

…This is an interesting article but also confuses me and probably every football fan. What does Mike Vick’s success in the NFL have anything to do with his race? Is the author trying to say that African-American Quarterbacks in the NFL are not liked because of race? Are they not good  enough to win because of their skin color? These are the questions that I have to ask throughout the article because he clearly thinks Vick would have been different and played differently if he was a caucasian quarterback. To be honest, I think Vick is a top 5 quarterback regardless of race, economics, or opportunity. If you are a great player and a great talent in the NFL, it shouldn’t matter what race you or where you are from. All that should matter is that you love the game and play it at the highest level. Yes, he has made mistakes, but in his defense many white players have made bad decisions. It’s not only the African-American players that get into trouble and hurt themselves. Overall, he’s a great player and you can’t knock his skills. That’s why Michael Vick is so popular in the NFL and it is why he is now part of the 100 million contract club…

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Carlos Beltran out of New York but is he the 2nd greatest Mets hitter of all time?

July 30, 2011

This is an interesting article written by Matt Meyers of ESPN Magazine discussing Beltran’s success in New York compared to other Mets players. It’s a good read…

Via ESPN New York:

Carlos Beltran has a gift. It’s the gift of effortlessness, the ability to do the spectacular while appearing to barely break a sweat. Problem is, that gift comes with some serious baggage.

If you spend any amount of time listening to local sports radio — which is usually a decent proxy for the typical fan — you know that there is a large section of New York Mets fans who perceive Beltran’s smooth style as indifference, and view the called Strike 3 he took in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS as a microcosm of his passive approach to the game.

That perception, coupled with the expectations that came with Beltran’s $119 million contract, led some to believe that Beltran isn’t all he was cracked up to be.

Now that he has been traded to the San Francisco Giants, it’s time to reflect on Beltran’s legacy. Though some will say he was never worth the money, his production says he is among the best players in franchise history. In reality, he lived up to that contract as well as could have been expected and became the Mets’ most productive player since Darryl Strawberry.

In some ways, this isn’t a particularly controversial statement; the Mets haven’t exactly been churning out superstar players over the past two decades. The only other players who are seriously in the conversation are David Wright and, of course, Mike Piazza. While many would concede that Beltran was a better player than Wright during his Mets tenure, it’s much tougher to convince Mets fans that Beltran had a better career with the team than Piazza did.

If you head to Baseball Reference and check out the Mets’ career leaders for wins above replacement — which measures hitting, defense and baserunning — you’ll see that Strawberry is the franchise leader, Beltran is second and Wright is just behind him.

Piazza? He’s No. 8, despite the fact that he had 300 more plate appearances with the Mets than Beltran did. This is relevant because WAR is a counting stat, so more playing time should, theoretically, mean a higher WAR, and explains why Mookie Wilson ranks ahead of John Olerud. It also explains why the gap between Beltran and Wright is even larger than it looks. Despite the fact that Wright was called up to the big leagues half a season before Beltran signed with the Mets, Beltran still has him beat.

You may not put much faith in WAR, and while there are year-to-year quirks, it’s useful for judging player performance over a number of seasons. (For example, the top five players in baseball history are Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and Cy Young. Not bad, right?)

So why does Beltran rate so much higher than Piazza? There’s a couple of reasons. For starters, although they both played premium positions, Beltran played his very well. He also had great value as a baserunner, succeeding on 100 of his 116 steal attempts during his career in New York. Lastly, after a poor first season with the Mets, Beltran has performed like a superstar ever since. In fact, his 151 OPS+ this year is the highest of his career, even higher than his 2006 season.

Piazza, on the other hand, finished out his Mets career with three mediocre seasons at the plate while supplying no defensive or baserunning value. And if you want to talk about peak value, forget it. As good as Piazza was, nothing he did compared to Beltran’s 2006 season, when he set the team record with 41 homers while posting a .982 OPS and playing stellar defense in center.

Bill James once wrote that players who do one thing really well are typically overrated, while those with a broad set of skills are usually underrated, and Beltran most certainly falls into the latter category. Much of his greatness is subtle, such as his fantastic defense and baserunning.

You want to knock him for his injuries? That’s understandable. But keep in mind that he is one of just five Mets to ever play in 161 or more games in a season. And when he was on the field, he always produced like the star he was paid to be.

Sure, he struck out to end the 2006 NLCS, but is it his fault that Billy Wagner gave up the go-ahead home run to light-hitting So Taguchi in Game 2 of that series? Or that the Mets started John Maine, Steve Trachsel and Oliver Perez in five of the seven games? It’s easy to forget, but on the last day of the 2008 season, when the Mets were in the middle of their second straight collapse, Beltran hit a two-run homer off the Marlins’ Scott Olsen to tie the game at 2-2. The Mets would lose the game, but through no fault of Beltran, who almost saved their season.

Point is, if you’re going to criticize the guy for when he didn’t come through, you also need to give him credit for when he did. (And don’t forget the 1.086 OPS he had during that final month of the 2008 season.)

Over the course of his Mets career, Beltran posted a .280/.367/.500 line while averaging 29 homers and 108 RBIs, playing stellar defense in center and stealing bases at an efficient clip. If you expected the Mets to get more for their money, then your expectations are entirely out of whack.

None of this is to say you have to like Beltran, because choosing a favorite is extremely subjective. But there is no denying that he was an extremely productive player who should be remembered as one of the greatest Mets of all time.

This is good analysis by Matt Meyers regarding Beltran and the Mets. I think he was huge during the Mets playoff runs. In 2006 he hit 41 homers and he was a run producer while batting in front of Delgado, Wright, and Alou during that time. I honestly see him as the 2nd best hitter but also one of the most superb fielders I have ever watched. He ran down balls in the gap and could get to any ball that not many center fielders could run down. But one thing you got out of Beltran was a guy who played every single day and was competitive even when the team was not winning every single day. It was an honor to watch him play and I think that was one signing that Omar Minaya hit on the money and wish him the best of luck in the future. Switching to right field will lengthen his career and I think it will be fun to see #15 in any ballpark playing the game he loves…