In The Nation‘s web-letters, Dave Zirin repliesto my post about his column on Michael Vick. In the nicest possibleway, he suggests that I’m out of my depth in tackling a sportssubject. He’s certainly right that I’m no expert on sports or sportsmedia. How big an expert you need to be in this case is anotherquestion.
Zirin’s big point is that Vick and other football stars do not havethe moral agency I attribute to them, because they come from poorbackgrounds and have few alternatives : “Vick and others are free notto play professional football. They are also free to work inMcDonalds, or go to a public school that treats them like prisoners.”
That may be so. I wasn’t condemning Vick for playing football, though,but for allegedly running a barbaric and illegal dogfighting business.What does dogfighting have to do with escaping from a life flippingburgers? Or — Zirin’s other distracting topic — with the prevalenceof sports injuries? True, as Zirin notes, there are greater evils inthe world than animal torture, and animal torture does not exist in avacuum: “We are carrying out two military occupations, spend $500billion on “defense” and have over 300 million guns in circulation. Itshouldn’t surprise us that violent sports, from the NFL to UltimateFighting, find a wide audience. It also shouldn’t surprise us thatplayers in these sports engage in past times [sic] that one would deemanti-social.”
Yes, yes: violence in, violence out. Not only am I not surprised thatour warlike and violence-loving society produces lots of, um,violence, I’ve made the same point myself. But every now and then, acrime is so gratuitously horrible it stands out. To blame Vick’salleged crimes on society and outrage against them on racism feelslike an evasion, like political boilerplate.
I do have trouble seeing sports stars — zillionaires idolized bymillions and held up as role models to children (and how idiotic isthat?) –as mere victims of the system. To me they seem more likely tobe testosterone-poisoned narcissists who think they can get away withanything, and often do. The celebrity culture of entitlement — that’sthe system they operate in, not the Old South. It may be true, asZirin says, that only poor kids become professional players, becausethe work is so hard and the struggle so great — but whatever Vick’sorigins it’s hard to see as a peon someone who is making $13 milliondollars a year. As for racism , that may be true of the radiofrothers– maybe one day a white star will be accused of animaltorture and we can compare the public response. But it doesn’tdescribe me, or the many Nation readers who’ve written in to expresstheir outrage.
If charging racism doesn’t play at The Nation, you probably need abetter argument.