Popular sports giant ESPN drew the ire of fans this week after it ran an online article headlined “What if Michael Vick Were White?” on the front page of its football section.
The article, which featured a re-digitalized picture of Vick with a White face, was quickly removed before being reposted Aug. 24. The story was written by Toure, a New York-based writer.
“Race is an undeniable and complex element of Vick's story, both because of his style as well as the rarity of Black QBs in the NFL,” Toure writes in the article. “A decade after he became the first Black QB to be drafted No. 1 overall, about one in five of the league's passers is African-American, compared with two-thirds of all players. But after his arrest for dogfighting, so many people asked: Would a White football player have gotten nearly two years in prison for what Vick did to dogs?”
The story goes on to contrast the treatment Vick received for charges of dogfighting, detail the backlash from media, and imagine what his jail sentence would have been if he were White. The story received numerous comments on its first day posted, with ESPN visitors debating everything from race to the justice system. Toure even opens the article with a controversial beginning:
“I see streetball. I don't just mean that sort of football where you have to count to four-Mississippi before you can rush the quarterback, nearly everything breaks down and it's all great fun. I also mean street basketball,” he wrote. “Vick's style reminds me of Allen Iverson—the speed, the court sense, the sharp cuts, the dekes, the swag. In those breathtaking moments when the Eagles QB abandons the pocket and takes off, it feels as if he's thumbing his nose at the whole regimented, militaristic ethos of the game.”
“All of that is why, to me, Vick seems to have a deeply African-American approach to the game,” Toure writes. “I'm not saying that a Black QB who stands in the pocket ain't playing Black. I'm saying Vick's style is so badass, so artistic, so fluid, so flamboyant, so relentless—so representative of Black athletic style—that if there were a stat for swagger points, Vick would be the No. 1 quarterback in the league by far.”
The story has caused a wide range of emotions on the internet and been covered with extensive debate on ESPN television shows “Mike and Mike” and “ESPN First Take.”