Zo Knows: Mike Vick Is Not a Victim
If it sounds like I went for a play on words in the title, let me assure you that I didn’t. I’m neither clever nor funny enough to pull off such a pun, even one as bad and as obvious as that one. The title of my piece merely speaks to how I feel about Michael Vick’s post game comments yesterday, following the Philadelphia Eagles 29-16 loss to the New York Giants.
“I felt I got hit late. No flag…At some point something catastrophic is going to happen. Not to blame the refs, but more precautions should be taken. I’m on the ground all the time in the pocket… I’m on the ground getting hit in the head and I don’t why… I don’t get the 15-yard flags like everybody else. Buy hey, I’m not going to complain about it. I’m just making everybody aware of it. Hopefully, somebody will take notice.” – Michael Vick after the Eagles loss on Sunday.
It’s an obvious joke, but I would hate to see what Vick says when he actually starts to complain. Truth is, Mike Vick does get hit a lot in the pocket. And I’m even to willing to admit that defenses get away with a little bit more than they do against the league’s other premiere quarterbacks. But the correlations Vick is presumably hinting at aren’t true, and there are only two things Vick could possibly be hinting at as reasons for his lack of penalty drawing: his mobility and race.
Oh yeah, I brought out the race card, but I will get back to that in a second.
Before I get killed for going into Vick’s mind, digging around a little, diving past the dog killings and the late-night prison mopping with Tink-Tink, and presuming that he’s pointing at something about him that makes referees less likely to call a penalty in his favor let me just say this: of course that’s what he’s doing!
Vick didn’t go to the podium to complain about not getting flags because he thinks its the luck of the draw, or that some kind of randomness was the reason he was getting hit late. No! He complained about not getting the flags that “everybody else” is getting, because he believes that there is something about him that is different from everybody else that causes referees to keep the flags in their pockets. Now, whether Vick has identified that in his own mind, I have no idea. But even if he hasn’t, I have no problem saying that the reason he thinks he has not gotten a fair shake is because something about him is different from everybody else. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that, but every now and then, you have to check the strength of the branch you walk out on.
So what does differentiate Vick from other quarterbacks that might cause him not get a flag that he deserves? We can toss out the dog killing. As much as that would be a viable excuse in other walks of life and million-dollar professions, it doesn’t work in the NFL. Vick is considered one of the players NFL athletes would most want on their team, and the league is making a considerable amount off of them. Even with referees, I find it hard to believe that they could make moral stances on Vick but let the women-beaters, drunk drivers and drug pushers off easy.
So the felony card is out.
Then there’s everybody’s favorite card in the deck…the race card! In case you didn’t know it, Mike Vick is black. Of course, this picture from ESPN might suggest otherwise. Truth be told, I can’t even discuss the hypothetical of Mike Vick getting flagged for being black with a straight face. All I can think of is every other joke I have ever heard about being ticketed for “driving while black,” and those jokes actually some credibility with them. I also go back to the studies that once suggested that NBA referees were more likely to call fouls against certain players because of their race. While such a study and ensuing conclusion does lend some sense of plausibility to the idea of Vick not getting calls because race, it’s hard to compare NBA referees to NFL referees, who use a lot more collaboration in penalty-calling. I will say this, as Mark Cuban pointed out in response to the aforementioned NBA study of referees, everyone has prejudices, and a hit against Vick were late or on time by milliseconds, maybe the judgment call does go against him because of his race. But how many “close call” situations is Vick really getting into?
Actually, that was a trick a question. Vick is getting into a lot of close-call situations, and that my friend, is the difference between Vick and “everybody else,” and it’s why he doesn’t get all of the flags that the other quarterbacks are getting.
Vick likes to run. And because he can run, he holds on to the football longer than other quarterbacks. And because he can escape the grasp of defenders with his speed and leg strength, he absorbs and plays through hits that his peers cannot. As a result of having the football in his hands longer and escaping defenders, Vick leaves himself open to more blows to the body.
It’s not rocket science. You hold the ball longer, you expose yourself to more blows. If you’re Peyton Manning, who gets rid of the ball before the defensive end can come out of his stance, you get hit less. And when you have the quick release of Matthew Stafford, the time between your letting go of the football and the defender falling at your legs is that much greater, and the referee does not have to make as many judgment calls as he does with a guy with a slower release who holds on to the football, i.e., Michael Vick.
But Vick isn’t the only one who falls victim to holding on to the ball, playing Houdini and having a slower release. Ben Roethlisberger takes more hits because of that, Aaron Rodgers gets blown up a lot, and Steve Young was the record holder for getting blown up as a quarterback. But the common thread there isn’t that they are all black, because obviously they aren’t. The common thread is that they are all mobile guys who extend plays. And when you extend a play you extend yourself to more hits. Now do referees subconsciously give defenders a little slack against quarterbacks who move around a lot?
Clearly they do. But who can blame them?
Referees can’t go around throwing penalty flags on judgment call after judgment call throughout the entirety of NFL games. It would slow the game down and put the game in the hands of the referee. It’s far better to swallow the whistle on a judgment call than to blow it and risk calling something you didn’t see.
Thus, the only thing Vick is victim to is the competitive spirit that I’m sure he’s in favor of. If Vick were playing football in the neighborhood park, a hit that’s half a second late doesn’t get called, and he would call “foul” if somebody called out that late hit against him. Close, ticky-tack penalties are seen as cowardly and against the competitive spirit of the game, and it’s up to referees to maintain that competitive spirit, while keeping within in the blurred boundaries of the rues. And as much as I would rather see Vick on the field than off it, you can’t play quarterback the way he does and expect to be treated like the quarterback he is not.
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