The Michael Vick Saga: Why It's Not "A Race Thing"

Tyler EstepSenior Analyst IMay 20, 2009

Michael Vick is black.

Roger Goodell is white.

Vick, the Atlanta Falcons’ dynamic former quarterback, was released from federal prison this week, and many want to make his quest for reinstatement back into the NFL a race issue.

They want to make the commissioner’s lack of a confident answers about Vick’s potential return into a hesitation based on race, and to make Vick one of the most polarizing figures in professional sports, if not the country.

And he is. But not because of his skin color.

In a recent article, Jemele Hill of ESPN astutely pointed out that when Vick was playing as a Falcon, there were “Falcon fans” and “Michael Vick fans.”

And, yes, I will admit that the majority of the “Michael Vick fans” (those who didn’t particularly care how the Falcons did, as long as Vick was thriving) were, and still are, African American.

I’m from metro Atlanta. I saw what Vick did for the city and the franchise.

His exciting playing style took the Falcons from irrelevancy to legitimate NFC South contenders every season. He brought a lot of pride to Falcons fans, whether they were black or white.

But I was also in Flowery Branch for the Falcons' training camp a few years back—one with animal rights activists and Vick supporters barking back and forth at each other, plenty of dogs running around, and a plane carrying the banner “NEW TEAM NAME: DOG KILLERS” flying overhead.

And you wonder why Goodell is hesitant to reinstate Vick, even after his 23 or so months have been served? It must be because Vick is black, right?


Nobody (except maybe Al Davis) wants that circus around their franchise. Goodell knows that, and he’s trying to do what’s best for his league, and, believe it or not, probably Vick too.

I love Mike Vick. I wrote last week that he was the reason I became a Falcons fan. I whole-heartedly believe that he deserves a second chance, and that he’ll get it—this season.

But can you blame Goodell for hesitating to instantly reinstate him?

This is a guy that has already created a ruckus around Atlanta and the entire NFL. A guy that lied to Goodell and Falcons owner Arthur Blank about his impending doom. A guy that already had an image problem before the dogfighting scandal broke (See: flipping off fans at the Georgia Dome, a photo that surfaced showing him possibly smoking pot, and that water bottle incident at the airport).

And, don’t forget, after each of these incidents, Vick said he would clean up his act.

Blank, who cares a lot about image and who is white, was behind his quarterback all the way.

Until Vick lied to him.

The lines are truly divided around Vick, and yes, especially in Atlanta, African Americans may tend to be, at least stereotypically, more pro-Vick.

But, regardless of race, most smart, rational people seem to agree—what Vick did was despicable. However, he received and served a fair sentence for his crimes, and he should and will get a second chance in the NFL.

Said Blank: “I believe in second chances. I believe in redemption.”

So don’t make this into a race issue.

Yes, Michael Vick is black. And yes, Roger Goodell is white. You can probably draw the same face-value conclusion about plenty of proponents on either side of the Vick debate.

But Vick’s reinstatement isn’t a race issue—the issue here is the dogs that Vick bred, fought, and murdered.

Some of them were white, some black, some brown. More importantly, though, some are dead.

The fact that Vick is black has nothing to do with Goodell’s seemingly hesitant stance on his reinstatement—it’s more about the red still on his hands.