The Curious Case Of ESPN The Magazine 's White Michael Vick

Matthew Newton

This afternoon ESPN The Magazine published an article titled "What if Michael Vick were white?" The piece, written by novelist and music journalist Touré, looks at how race is "an undeniable and complex element of Vick's story, both because of his [playing] style as well as the rarity of black QBs in the NFL." Touré goes on to punctuate that point with the following hypothetical: "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?"

ESPN's art department took Touré's hypothetical and ran with it when creating the story's lead visual: An editorial illustration of Michael Vick as a white man (see above). Weird, right? What purpose could such an image possibly serve unless, wait... Do you think ESPN was hoping to attract mountains of readers by running a controversial image and a race-baiting headline? If that was the case, the controversy part is already paying dividends (i.e., cue the Internet outrage).

As Deadspin points out, "Commend yourselves, people of the blogs and Twitter. You've vanquished ESPN stupidity in record time." In other words, ESPN pulled the image from its website this afternoon shortly after the article was published, replacing it with a less inflammatory photo from the Associated Press. Of course, deleting images from a print magazine that's already shipped is a trickier affair (see here).

After linking to the article on his Twitter account, Touré chimed in with a postscript regarding ESPN's packaging: "I had no idea they'd put a pic of Vick in whiteface. Makes no sense w an essay saying it's impossible to re-imagine him as white?" Followed by: "In the magazine world writers don't title their stories & don't have a voice in deciding the artwork that goes with their stories."

Journalism, where the quest for eyeballs-at-any-cost continues.