Eye-Black Messages Must Not Be Blacked Out

Tosten HeathSenior Analyst ISeptember 14, 2009

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 12:  Terrelle Pryor #2 and head coach Jim Tressel of the Ohio State Buckeyes look on from the sidelines during their game against the USC Trojans at Ohio Stadium on September 12, 2009 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Scientifically speaking, eye black is a tool used to improve eye contrast sensitivity. Traditional eye black is a dark grease commonly consisting of beeswax, paraffin, and carbon. All this works together to reduce glare from the sun.

If only it could reduce glare from the spotlight...

You see, throughout the evolution of sports and time, a few more ingredients have been added to the sacred recipe: principle, protest, and passion.

Figures from throughout the broad spectrum of the sporting hemisphere have taken this stripe of black, and molded it into their own personal banner of inner expression. This badge of fierceness, of protection, has evolved into a symbol of vulnerability, of freedom.

Eye black has become a physical, visible blog for the biggest athletic superstars of our time, a platform for personal ministry and expression.

Tim Tebow, University of Florida quarterback and college football wonderboy, writes bible verses such as “John 3:16” in his eye black. Tebow’s black stripes are his pulpit.

New Orleans Saints running back, Reggie Bush places area code “619” on his black stripes. Eye black is Bush’s connection to home. Whereas Tebow’s grease is for the masses, Bush’s grease is personal.

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s grease...That’s a completely different story.

Two Saturdays ago, Pryor, only yet a 20-year-old sophomore in college, wrote “Vick” under each eye, a tribute to Michael Vick, formerly a pro-bowl quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons who was just recently released from prison after famously serving 18 months for dogfighting.

This wasn’t a representation of a player’s faith, or a symbol of a player’s childhood, it was a blatant, public backing of a media villain. Vick is an emblem for all things evil about the modern athlete, and Pryor was supporting him in the way media hero Tim Tebow supports his holy book.

They called it despicable. Columnists dubbed Pryor immature and grouped him in the same corrupt clique of spoiled, immoral star athletes as the Vick he endorses. Pryor was torn to shreds.

They ripped him for speaking his mind. For publicly voicing support for a recovering idol who could find a whole lot less useful things right now than support. For exercising the first amendment.

This is like bashing Jay-Z for opening a show and closing it. Or criticizing Mickey Mouse for doing back flips. It’s not totally in the job description, and may be an overextension, but it’s allowed. And it’s fresh.

And frankly, it’s enjoyable.

Terrelle Pryor is not a thoughtless young seedling who made a thoughtless young decision.

And if he is, so are the families who wait in airports for hours with posters adorned with glittering love and support for their family members coming back from tours abroad.

And if he is, so is Tony Dungy, most well known for coaching the Colts to a Super Bowl victory, writing a biography about his relationship with God, and most relevantly, supporting Vick on his path out of prison as the fallen star's spiritual counselor.

Perhaps controversy was most stirred up when Pryor defended his decision to support Vick via eye black by saying, “Not everybody’s the perfect person in the world, I mean everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever. I think that people need a second chance.”

Preaching the truth that everyone sins is honesty that can’t be ignored.

Nothing and no one should ever reduce the glare of free speech.