By Vernon Nickerson
America has the highest expectations for the uber- talented athlete, the high-performing iconoclasts and innovators who literally often change the way a particular sport is played. When performing at their peak, theses athletes are in equal parts feared, respected and held in awe by fans. Whether or not it is fair, these expectations of perfection carry over into every aspect of the uber-athlete’s life. Without a physical cadre of family unconditionally loving and consistently committed to the best interests of the uber-athlete through the highs and lows of a live lived in the public eye,24/7, 365 days a year, it is difficult if not impossible to sustain a career in professional sports over years, let alone decades.
ESPN’s award-winning documentary series 30 for 30 and Writer-Director Stanley Nelson’s documentary, Vick: Parts 1 and 2 tackles the Olympian task of chronicling the storybook rags-to-riches rise, dramatic fall and ongoing redemption story of trailblazing quarterback Michael Vick. Nelson also masterfully provides a psychosocial case study of the peculiar institution of America’s southern culture from the founding of the southern colonies, through the Great War and the First Reconstruction to the Second Reconstruction of LBJ and ending at the beginning of the Third Reconstruction of Capitalism/Trumpism.
It is an often repeated canard, but still true that regardless of career and or sport, persons of color must always be 10 times as good and righteous as their caucasian peers. Fairly or unfairly, this belief is confirmed in Mr. Vicks case.
All the elements of a great story are present: a reluctant hero, born into poverty, raised by his grandmother and mother. Our hero has an ironic fatal flaw, a commitment to taking his equally impoverished friends out of poverty. Nelson skillfully weaves together a tale of reverse cultural assimilation, the white southern gentleman’s genteel sport of dog fighting and breeding animals to fight each other to the death with “friendly wagering” that generated a healthy income for fight producers.
What all of Vick’s haters conveniently ignore and or intentionally never address is that Mike and his crew had been taught by published history and practice of the Southern agrarian aristocracy that this was a socially acceptable and humane way for men of means to vicariously release their natural aggression. Through the fight-to-the-death of animals that man had been given divine dominion over, Vick naively believes this practice is his ticket to acceptance into NFL heaven.
Unfortunately, with no mentors/mature male role models, Vick’s ‘crew’ becomes intoxicated by the social equalizer of millions of dollars of disposable income, and no one is there to warn Mike Vick and Crew that the New-and-Post Reacial- South had long since repudiated mistreatment of animals for profit and fully embraced animals as mini- humans to be loved and bred for show pets/human companions.
No one in the story ever acknowledges the wisdom and humanity of a group of mostly men of color who eschew the stereotypical violent pastimes of 20th and 21st Century black males- guns, pumping poisoning and soul killing illegal drugs into the veins of their impoverished black brothers and sisters, and maltreatment of women as ‘sport’. No human dies as a result of dog fighting. In the eyes and cultural norms of the ‘more civilized’ New South, Vick and his partners become the animals the the angry mob wants to put down- by every legal and moral means necessary.
When a couple of older conductors board Mike’s “gravy train with biscuit wheels”, according to one eyewitness, the train has already jumped the tracks into the dark world of breeding dogs for a canine version of “Fight Club” and the brutal maiming and killing that produces the “best” fighting dogs and euthanizes those who don’t measure up.
When it all goes south ( pun intended) under an international media spotlight, — battle lines starkly emerge- communities of color support Mike and his crew while white folk nearly universally want to lynch Mike and his crew at least twice.
People of all races will have to see this movie to decide for themselves what will be the legacy of Michael Vick, his family, his friends, his fans and his haters. Will the film going audience conclude the Vick’s redemption is sincere? Is rehabilitation possible? Is forgiveness possible? You simply will have to watch the whole story and decide for yourselves.
Will Michael Vick the Animal Rights activist evolve to reclaim his childhood friends by acknowledging that he and they did the best they could with the wealth, power, and hypocritical evil twins of racism and ignorance of history that was thrust upon them? Will anyone appreciate the redemptive power of Vick’s unconditionally loving family that appears to sustain Vick to the present day after watching this important film/ jewel in the crown of Black History Makers? I hope you will go and enjoy this fine example of documentary filmmaking.
For more information and to watch the documentary go hear https://www.espn.com/watch/film/6e04e397-03bb-434c-837b-521a17787fef/vick