Earlier this week, appearing alongside a cast of Fox Sports clowns who pretty much make a living off of hating Colin Kapernick, Mike Vick auditioned for the lead role in Get Out 2 – revealing in front of the whole world just how comfortable he is in the sunken place. It was a strange, painful thing to watch.
I lived in Atlanta for most of my adult life. I was there when the Falcons drafted him. I watched him lead the team to an amazing playoff victory over Brett Favre and the Packers at Lambeau Field. I saw him crash and burn when he was convicted for leading a lethal dog fighting ring. I argued that the punishment and prison time he received was too harsh. I saw the sting of him being cut from the Falcons and rooted for him to resurrect his career elsewhere. Atlanta always loved him and cheered for him. That’s why watching him sell Colin Kaepernick out the way he did was all the more devastating.
In case you missed it, Mike Vick had some very clear advice for how Colin Kaepernick could find his way back into the good graces of the NFL. With a very stern, reflective tone, Vick said,
“The first thing we got to get Colin to do is cut his hair. I don’t think he should represent himself in that way in terms of the hairstyle. Just go clean cut. Why not? Perception and image is everything. I love the guy to death, but I want him to succeed on and off the field, and this has to be a start for him.”
He wasn’t joking. He didn’t bust out laughing afterwards. I kept waiting for Vick to say something like, “Oh hell no! Y’all didn’t think I was serious just now did you?” It never happened. Even the conservative hosts were surprised and admitted they didn’t quite expect that statement to come out of his mouth. None of us did.
That’s because we have imposed on Mike Vick a reality that does not actually exist. He’s not a freedom fighter. He’s not an activist. He’s not even known to be remotely thoughtful on issues at the intersection of race and discrimination in America. He wasn’t outspoken before he served time and for damn sure wasn’t outspoken afterwards. We often want to imagine that our favorite athletes and entertainers are deep or bold or brave, but more times than not end up being left highly disappointed in that desire.
If Vick’s words stung you like they stung me, let me add another huge heap of disappointment on top of that for you. I think he’s right.
What Mike Vick was saying is that if Colin Kaepernick wants to play in the league again, he needs to lie his ass off by hiding every single hint of internal and external blackness he can. The NFL, after all, doesn’t have a problem with long hair. In fact, some of its most popular and marketable players, like Troy Polamalu and Clay Matthews, are famous for it, on and off the field. Colin’s problem isn’t his big hair – it’s what it represents to the fragile white sensibilities of NFL fans and team owners. When Samoan players across the league have allowed their huge hair to grow out of their helmets, it’s a spectacle that NFL owners view with a wink and a nod because they don’t see the corresponding culture that comes along with it as any sort of threat.
Colin’s afro, on the other hand, is done in the spirit of the Black Panther Party. It is done to connect him with the legacy and history of many of the leaders he loves and admires. So, in that sense, Mike Vick is right. If Colin Kaepernick decided to begin living a lie by cutting off all of his hair, denouncing his fight against police brutality, apologizing for supporting activists and movements in America and around the world, shunning his blackness, and began simply posing alongside flashy cars with his shirt off, maybe, just maybe, he’d be given a shot again.
Because what I know is this – the league hardly cared how Kaepernick looked before he began speaking out against police brutality, racism, and systemic injustice. Long hair, big hair, crazy beards, tattoos – none of it matters – to fans or NFL executives alike – as long as you shut up about injustice. Right now, if Colin Kaepernick had a huge afro, but had never spoken out against injustice, married a white woman, and occasionally mocked the Black Lives Matter Movement, nobody would have a problem with his hair. If let white fans pat it like he was a mascot, or Richard Pryor in the movie Toy, he might even get endorsement deals around it, but you know and I know, that’s just not going to happen.
What Mike Vick revealed in his comments is the painful truth about America. To get back into the league, Colin Kaepernick must go out of his way to not only reject his blackness, but remove as many possible signs of it, and maybe even apologize for ever embracing it in the first place.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter!