One could make the argument that Michael Vick is among the most hated people in America right now. 72 percent of sports fans dislike him and I guarantee that number would be even higher among non-sports fans if the question were posed like this: “How do you feel about a man who pleaded guilty to funding a dog fighting ring and killing at least 6-8 dogs?” Considering the typical Americans’ affection for animals, it’s safe to say Vick might be up there with Bernie Madoff.
In this case, hate is probably okay. I mean, it would be far more alarming if the majority of Americans supported a puppy-killing felon. But anyone who believes Vick is all that’s wrong with today’s athletes clearly hasn’t been paying enough attention to all the wrong in today’s athletes. What Vick did was evil, no doubt, but let’s make this clear: For all the influence he may have once had, it’s not as though a whole new segment of the population has decided that dog fighting might be a cool thing to try.
The same can’t be said for guys like J.R. Smith and Plaxico Burress, who not only represent the worst part of American culture; they embrace it. Since entering the NBA, Smith has made more news for his affiliation with the Bloods street gang than he ever has for his performance on the basketball court. During this year’s playoffs he was seen flashing gang signs and recently, he decided to replace the letter “C” with “K” in all of his tweets, which is what Bloods are known to do. Burress , of course, was recently indicted on weapons charges for shooting himself in the foot with an unregistered gun in a crowded night club last year.
Smith and Burress’ situations are unrelated, but not uncommon. Unlike Vick, whose heinous crimes and harsh punishment did everything but glamorize dog fighting, there are still hundreds of thousands of young people who think gangs are an outlet and carrying a gun is the only way to stay safe.
My point isn’t that we should be letting Vick off the hook. It’s just that we should be focusing on the more-pressing and far more-common issues that affect our young people. Issues, like you know, gangs and guns, which claim thousands of lives each year. Instead, Smith’s decision to rep his gang got less than ten seconds on PTI and the Burress indictment coverage focused more on whether or not he will get to play in the NFL this season than the fact that he is going to end up in prison.
No one wants to look at the larger picture with these guys. Vick is never going to be looked at the same again, but Smith is probably more popular today than he’s ever been. There are Bloods all over the country embracing him. And Burress is looked at as a guy who needed a gun because he felt like a target. Sadly, there are thousands of people who identify with that feeling.
Vick may have committed the worst crime, but it’s people like Smith and Burress that carry the most influence. And those are the guys we should really be worrying about.