Saturday, September 1, 2007

More reflections on Michael Vick

I remember seeing a cartoon with a two-part panel.

In the first panel, a young man who has obviously struck it rich is talking to his unkempt parents outside their tiny, falling-down shack in some hillbilly enclave. Now, he tells them with a proud smile, he can buy them the home of their dreams.

The second panel shows him returning, to be confronted with the same falling-down shack, built 100 times bigger.

There's a message in that, and the recent legal problems of Atlanta Falcons' quarterback Michael Vick provides yet another. Both speak to one of the more enduring beliefs in our society, that having lots of money automatically makes you a different (and, theoretically, better) person.

Sure, it happens. Unfortunately, though, most of the evidence is stacked to the contrary. The history of lotteries in this country is full of sad stories about people who won millions, then burned through it in short order.

Athletes provide a particular cautionary tale here in the 21st century. Many of them come from grim inner city neighborhoods or hardscrabble rural areas. Why? Because those settings toughened them, and allowed them to take their natural athletic ability up a notch. Moreover, many come to see their their future as a stark choice between athletic success or poverty.

As a football coach once told me: "The kid from the suburbs would like to make the first team. The kid from the slums has to make the first team."

Again, there are exceptions, but Vick isn't one of them. He grew up in a marginally rough section of Newport News and was defined early on by his athletic ability. He struggled academically at Virginia Tech, and has never come across as a particularly articulate or educated individual. A regular guy, in other words, who happens to possess otherworldly physical talents.

Eventually, those talents earned him multi-millions, but he's still the same person. Is he going to join one of Atlanta's elite social clubs? Is he going to suddenly start hanging around with college presidents and bankers and software savants? Probably not, because he has nothing in common with those people beyond his bank balance, and perhaps their adoration of him.

So who does he choose for friends? The guys he grew up with. Some pro athletes actually transplant their pals from the old neighborhood to wherever they happen to be performing. That's a sweet deal for members of the "entourage," and the party is usually on their old buddy who's made good.

Except that when the jock in question has roots in a rough subculture, that entourage can get out of hand. As in the case of Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis, who nearly spent the rest of his life behind bars after one or more of his "friends" stabbed two men to death outside a nightclub. Or Tennessee Titans' defensive back Adam "Pac Man" Jones, two years removed from West Virginia University, who caught some of the blowback when a bouncer at a Las Vegas strip club was shot and paralyzed by an entourage member.

The rest of us feast on such lurid tales. We love it when an actor or a rock star or a quarterback turns out to have feet of clay and a rap sheet.

What we should be thinking about, though, is our generally skewed perspective on money in general.

We can fantasize, as most of us do, that one day we'll win the lottery or be gifted by a forgotten rich relative or (in the case of many newspaper reporters) write the novel that will become a cash cow.

It's good to dream, but we need to realize that even if our ship does come in, we'll still be who we are. And if we're not ready to properly receive it, our good fortune is apt to fly away.

Especially if that ship turns out to be full of pirates.


Anonymous said...

Who is the Pirate, and who is the captive? If Vicks "ship" of fame and fortune has come in through his talent in football, what has he got to show for it? It is as though his glory days are becoming overcasted by bad decisions, troubles with the law, and too much publicity. He has in essence, become a captive to his own ego, fighting with "pirates" (the law), which in many respects, he's had to be confronted with his own accountability of his actions by his animal cruelty among other crimes. I admire those who who come from poverty stricken homes and rise up to be educated,professional,ambitious individuals who seek to make a difference in the world. These are your everday people who work hard to make change in the lives of those who need it most. What has Vick given to the world? A few won games? A couple of trophies? Not to mention fame and fortune among his achievements. He should be proud of his climb from the pit of poverty to the tower of recognition from every media station, and every fan in football. But to be proud as a role model? I should say not. Surely we all make mistakes, but somewhere along the way, we must ask ourselves: What can learn from our mistakes? Vick has a lot to learn. Perhaps he should starting helping others instead of kicking them down (such as the example when he kicked another player a few years back). Or perhaps fight for animal rights instead of abusing them by being part of a dog fighting ring. When will society look at role models with higher standards? I don't think football criminals will ever make the list. It's time to start putting our role models outside the bounds of the rich, famous, and criminal. Then we might begin to appreciate the work and charity of todays everyday-role models. Let us look to them, and not the likings of poor influences and bad choices as such of Michael Vick.

Bedford Hawk said...

Well, surely there are many everyday heroes in every direction you want to look, such as 27 year old, SSGT Jesse Clowers, a Va Tech graduate, who decided to enlist in the Army and become a Green Beret. Unfortunately he was killed in Afghanistan on 8/27/07. Did he receive a lot of press or attention? No, because he wasn't a celebrity as such. Many of our American values are displaced but that is the way of the world it seems, and there is not much we can do but protest it individually, and I can assure anyone that it doesn't win friends or influence many people to do so. We are viewed as being negative by the liberals and funky by most young folks. As for me, I never crowned Vick as any kind of hero or famous person, I suppose because I am a Texas Longhorn fan rather than VA Tech, whom I despise as a football team but not as an institution, and pull for the Houston Texans rather than the Atlanta Flacons. (No, I'm not from Texas, that is just coincidental. If the Virginia Cavs would give me reason I would return "home".)

Vick was a great footballer but that's all I can ever give him, and that's not enough to put him anywhere near the class of SSGT. Clowers or his thousands of comrades fighting for their U.S. uniform, and their very lives every day, while we Americans are focusing on football and such.

Darrell, again you've called the situation for what it is. You're good at that.