Monday, August 20, 2007

the tuesday morning quarterback sympathizes with mike vick for some reason

(disclaimer: let me just make two things clear before i begin. one, i like mike vick, at least as as player. i've always wanted him to break through and silence the critics that say he's a terrible QB. two, i am not a dog person. can't stand 75% of the dogs i've ever met. more importantly i can't stand 99% of the dog owners i've ever met. i'm actually a huge cat fan. so i just wanted to clarify that i'm writing this critique of a pro-vick article, not because i hate vick or am a dog lover, but because it is horrendously written. let's begin.)

i've had a love/hate relationship with gregg easterbrook, aka the tuesday morning quarterback, ever since i started reading him regularly about 2 years ago. on the bright side: he's incredibly smart, reasonably funny, likes to mix in some interesting side topics along with his football analysis, and often calls out teams and coaches who overuse conventional wisdom in situations that would be better handled with outside the box thinking. on the dark side: he often comes off as heavily condescending, overuses unfunny and unclever nicknames he himself made up, and worst of all, absolutely abuses stats to prove his misguided points a lot of the time. a classic example would look something like this:

The turning point in [game X] came with [time] left in the 4th quarter. [Team Y] was trailing by 7 and had a 4th and 3 from [somewhere deep in their own territory]. Shockingly, they chose to punt, and no sooner had they done so that the TMQ closed the book on this game. The average NFL play gains 3.7 yards! [Team Y] probably isn't going to make the playoffs anyways; why not give your fans something to cheer for, and better yet, make the statistically correct decision by going for it there? The logic some coaches in this league use is completely wrong so often it's no wonder turnover is so high.

i mean, that was a made up example. but anyone who reads him regularly would have to agree with me; he constantly uses broadly accrued statistics to analyze very specific situations. that is dumb. a comparitive example would be to try to claim that "the average ameican has a median income of $x,000. therefore, the average resident of oldmoneysville, connectticut, as well as the average resident of shantytown, alabama, probably makes about that much money as well." stuff like this makes no sense and is the cause of a good part of the hate in my aforementioned love/hate relationship with him.

now, basically all of that irrelevant here. i just wanted to vent about easterbrook in general for a minute. let's move on to the article at hand, which is much different than the material he usually covers. today he wants to tell his readers he feels bad for mike vick. yes, that's right, feels bad for. why? i'll let him tell you (excerpted), and then i'll explain why he's being an idiot.

Vick: Villain or scoundrel ... or sympathetic figure?

I have an inclination to sympathize with Michael Vick, and not just because People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is denouncing him. They are popping champagne corks over at PETA, as Vick is the best thing to happen to the organization's profile and fundraising in years.

oh yeah, i should have added this to my clarifications at the beginning of the post: i hate PETA with a passion. what a bunch of dimwitted, out of touch morons.

Remember, the charges against Vick are accusations. The Duke lacrosse mess reminded us that accusations are not the same as guilt and that prosecutors might be unscrupulous.

the reason these two are not even close to similar: in one, the accused proclaimed their innocence throughout. in the other, even though easterbrook wrote this before vick agreed to cut his deal today, every other member of the accused party copped a plea within a month of the charges being filed. you don't usually see that type of behavior unless people are, you know, guilty. the prosecutor thing, well, we don't know much about that yet. but during the duke case, i remember the credibility of that nifong idiot being questioned almost instantly. i haven't heard jack crap about whoever the DA is in this case other than maybe they're putting extra effort into this because vick is a pro athlete. duuuuhhhhhh. any DA anywhere would do the same. doesn't make them wrong like nifong was.

moving onto easterbrook's reasons for sympathy- i will rank them all on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 meaning most legitimate.

One is that Vick became an athletic celebrity at age 16. Since then, has anyone ever said the word "no" to him? Did he ever hear "no" from his coaches, his teachers, Virginia Tech, the Atlanta Falcons, Reebok, Nike, Rawlings, the National Football League, ESPN or any of the sports-media companies, all of which were only too happy to indulge Vick so long as it benefited them? Vick might have believed he had become a Big Man -- someone no one could touch, someone above the rules. People who believe they are above the rules need to learn what integrity means. But only the gifted or philosophical can teach themselves character: The overwhelming majority of men and women need help from others to learn the lessons of character. Many such lessons begin with the word "no." Who in last 10 years has said "no" to Michael Vick? Of his friends, coaches, owners, university presidents or entourage, has anyone taken him aside and said, "Michael, it doesn't matter if you are on national television, it doesn't matter if you are rich, right is right and wrong is wrong." My guess is that no one close to Vick has told him this.

i give this a 2 on my scale. it basically amounts to "celebrities will be celebrities!" barely a reason for sympathy. how much slack are we supposed to cut people that are given everything and idolized? sure, it's a sick system, but it's not an excuse for illegal behavior. the ideal systemic change that would bring about an end to society's outrageous celebrity worshipping culture isn't coming anytime soon- therefore, it's up to athletes to keep themselves out of trouble. if they can't do it themselves, they should at least try to pay someone to tell them when they're doing something stupid.

In the end, Vick is responsible for his actions.

well there you go. why didn't you just say so?

Next, I feel some sympathy for Vick because of the "send a message" aspect of the case. There's no doubt that many celebrity athletes are getting away with too much. Celebrity athletes as a group have become arrogant, spoiled and even antisocial. This should be a major concern for the NFL, NBA, MLB and ESPN. But even if other celebrity athletes have gotten away with too much in other instances, Vick's case must be treated on its own merits. Some commentators argue that Vick must be dealt with severely to "send a message" about athlete's behavior. No: Vick must be dealt with fairly, to send a message about justice.

this is a 3, at most. has it occurred to gregg that maybe the case is being pursued harshly by the prosecutors in order to send a strong message about dogfighting? even if that isn't the case, and vick really has been targeted because he's an athlete, i doubt the prosecutor had the relatively underprosecuted transgressions of previous athletes (like ray lewis, as easterbrook points out) in mind. they're probably more concerned about something much more valuable to them and their job(s), such as public opinion. there's a fine line between the public not wanting an athlete to get away with crime and the public wanting them prosecuted excessively harshly. has this case crossed that line? i doubt it. it's subjective, but i don't see any bloodthirsty tactics being utilized. i don't hear vick or his attorneys complaining about the process.

Next, I feel sympathy for Vick because there is racial animus in the current turn of events. If Vick really is guilty of cruelty to animals and associating with lowlife gamblers, these things leave him open to a kind of condemnation that has nothing to do with race. But don't you just sense there are loads of people who are happy to have the chance to condemn the first African-American quarterback who was drafted first overall -- via an accusation that has nothing to do with race?

i'll put this at a 5. the racial undertones to the case do generate some sympathy for vick on my part. however, unlike in the duke case, i doubt there are any racial motivations on the part of the prosecutors themselves. the people that have always hated vick because he is black still hate him. people that didn't hate him before might now, but not because he is black. i mean, it's unfortunate that race is even a part of this whole situation, but i don't think it's a driving or motivating force. (on a side note,'s "e-ticket" feature ran an unbelievably good piece about this a little while ago.)

That there might be racial animus against Vick is not an excuse; he is responsible for his actions regardless of what others do or think.

again. thanks for making my point for me.

But suppose everything about the Michael Vick controversy was exactly the same except Vick was a white quarterback from an upper-middle-class family in Winnetka, Ill., Newport Beach, Calif., or Coral Gables, Fla. Can you say with a straight face that the public reaction and government action would the same?

on the part of the government, i absolutely without a trace of doubt can. zero doubt. on the part of the public? well, again, depends on which part of the public we're talking about. racists? no. crazy animal lovers? yes. anyone who doesn't fall into those two categories? yeah, probably. i say that with a straight face.

Next, I feel sympathy for Vick because he tripped into a "summer scandal." Starting around mid-July, legislatures recess, business executives and heads of state go on holiday, Hollywood airheads fly their private jets to Sag Harbor, N.Y., to relax in 10,000-square-foot mansions while complaining about greenhouse gas emissions: The news world slows down.

this scores out at a 1. maybe. next.

Next, I feel sympathy for Vick because he made his own problem worse.

read that again. you don't need to see the whole of the paragraph i excerpted that from. it doesn't help explain why this makes vick any more sympathetic. i'm going with a 0.

Next, I feel sympathy for Vick because he apparently is getting questionable legal advice.

wow... just... wow. you know who i feel bad for because they get questionable legal advice? every person charged with a crime who's ever had to utilize an overworked, inexperienced, mostly clueless public defender. easterbrook goes on to transcribe vick's official statement he read after pleading not guilty (initially) and picking it apart, showing why it's not a stereotypically good "i'm innocent" statement. guess what? none of that matters when it comes to how much sympathy vick deserves. if he hired the wrong top notch legal team, that's his problem. this is like saying a hollywood starlet who buys an ugly $4,000 dress for the oscars deserves sympathy. puh-lease.

Next, I feel sympathy for Vick because he apparently received poor advice long before lawyers stepped onto the stage. When the dogfighting and gambling charges first surfaced, Vick should have gone before the cameras, made a tearful apology, begged for forgiveness and offered the believable explanation you'll see in the next paragraph. Teary before the cameras, Vick would have offered his time and money to a campaign against the abuse of animals. Had he done this in April, the scandal would have gone away, and Vick would be admired for honesty. I feel sympathy for Vick because it's obvious no one gave him this kind of sensible public-relations advice.

this is a 1, maybe a 1 and a half. where to begin? that we're supposed to feel bad for vick because he didn't hire good PR people despite his millions of dollars? that we're supposed to believe there was anything vick could have said to diffuse the situation once he was indicted? as a cherry on the top of this mostly nonsensical article, read the "plausible explanation" easterbrook offers (in case you needed further proof that he's kind of out of touch with reality).

What believable explanation could Michael Vick have offered when the news broke? Not, of course, that cruelty to animals, or associating with gamblers, is OK. Rather, Vick could have said, "It's wrong what I did to those dogs, but we live in a world where governments, business and sports organizations don't hesitate for one second to do the same to human beings -- to exploit them, then throw them away. We need to change the way we treat animals, but most of all, we need to change the way we treat people."

gregg, send me a postcard from fantasyland. i'm sure things are nice there. meanwhile i'm stuck here in reality, where if a guy did what vick did and got exposed for it like vick did, he's screwed. no generic societal rambling will get him out of trouble. even if the charges were dropped, he'd still be surrounded by a cloud of negative press for years and years and years. a statement like this might improve public perception about him, for the tiny segment of society willing to synthesize this kind of complex message. on the other hand, the racists and the PETA members.... would probably be unmoved.

look, after rambling all over the place for a couple of hours during the writing of this article, i guess it pretty much comes down to a simple distinction. easterbrook says he feels "sympathetic" for vick because there's are a number of circumstances that, in his opinion, are exacerbating the situation for vick and making things worse than they should be. basically, it's like saying you feel sorry for someone who not wrecks their car while driving drunk but has the bad luck to get charged with a DUI as well! for starters even if we accept this definition/concept of sympathy, as i've spent this whole post explaining, i really don't feel like any of easterbrook's points illicit such sympathy. but more importantly, i want to argue with gregg's definition of "sympathy." i think an accused felon only really deserves it if we have strong reason to believe they are innocent. the fact that vick probably ran an illegal dogfighting ring (even though he hadn't made his plea at the time this article was written) trumps any other aspect of the situation. it's like the imaginary drunk driver incident i brought up earlier- the fact that the imaginary person drove drunk outweighs any other unfortunate situations they might have gotten themselves into. easterbrook might disagree with me, i guess. well... whatever. i'm spent.


eriz said...

cats are gay

eriz said...

oh and for content's sake, that is pretty absurd reasoning by easterbrook.

I do kind of feel bad for vick. The media has teated him like he burned a village full of children. Don't get me wrong: I love dogs and think dog fighting is mean. But in my opinion some of the other shit NFL players have pulled in recent years *cough* raylewis *cough* is waaaaaaay worse and was covered waaaaaay less than this case. Oh and this post reminded me of something I read on Kissing Suzy Kolber


Chris Hart said...

I want you to make a series of posts over the NFL season of TMQ "It was 4th and 3, they HAVE to go for it here" style articles. It might get old, but it's the definition of crappy writing.

Brett said...

Thanks for taking apart that ridiculous column, now I can blog about the Cheez-Its I'm eating or Entourage instead.

Easterbrook is one of those guys who gets away with murder because everyone thinks he's a GENIUS. Maybe he's the Mike Vick of Page 2. It's like, "This column sucks but I guess I don't get it because Gregg Easterbrook is so smart." He's always doing these forced contrarian columns, like the one defending Gene Upsahaw and the NFLPA where he picks some stupid position and defends it to prove what a FREE-THINKER and GENIUS he is.

Well, at least he's not an anti-Semite.

Brett said...

Thanks for taking apart that ridiculous column, now I can blog about the Cheez-Its I'm eating or Entourage instead.

Easterbrook is one of those guys who gets away with murder because everyone thinks he's a GENIUS. Maybe he's the Mike Vick of Page 2. It's like, "This column sucks but I guess I don't get it because Gregg Easterbrook is so smart." He's always doing these forced contrarian columns, like the one defending Gene Upsahaw and the NFLPA where he picks some stupid position and defends it to prove what a FREE-THINKER and GENIUS he is.

Well, at least he's not an anti-Semite.

Brett said...

Sorry for the double post. Safari sucks.

larry b said...

brett- these things happen. i agree, easterbrook often seems intentionally contrarian. link me to that cheez-its post when you finish. i'm eager to hear about them.

Chris Hart said...

From today's TMQ:

With six minutes remaining in regulation and North Carolina ahead by nine, the Tar Heels' Danny Green not only fired a crazy 3 but did so with 20 seconds on the shot clock. Afterward, Green said that if he'd hit that attempt, North Carolina would have won. Actually if he'd dribbled for 20 seconds, then bounced the ball off his foot out of bounds, North Carolina would have won -- there were 14 seconds remaining when the Hoyas tied the score to force overtime.

This is vintage Easterbrook. I wonder if he's ever seen a basketball game before, because that isn't how the game works.

Chris W said...

why is he writing about college basketball in august?

larry b said...

to prove a point- that all coaches and players always make bad decisions and can't manage a clock ever.