ESPN’s Photo Imagining A White Michael Vick Is, In A Word, Jarring
As part of its Michael-Vick-centric NFL preview issue, ESPN The Magazine featured a column called "What if Michael Vick were white?" penned by journalist/author/MSNBC contributor Touré. Touré did not want the piece to be called "What if Michael Vick were white?" It was anyway. He also did not know what the photo accompanying his piece would be. That photo was...well, here it is:
If Touré had his way, this rather shocking image of a ghostly white hypothetical Vick wouldn't have been used, either.
(And wouldn't you know it - that photo no longer accompanies the piece, though the same title remains.) This is because, according to his column, re-imagining Vick as a white person for hypotheticals like "Would a white person have been punished so harshly for dogfighting?" is ultimately useless:
Ultimately, there is no separating Vick from his circumstances: his race, parents, economics and opportunities. Alter any of those elements and everything about him and how the world sees him would be unrecognizable.
And so a photo illustration imagining Vick still as a QB for the Eagles wearing No. 7, looking like he does now only with white skin, runs counter to the point made in the column running directly below it. We don't blame Touré for not being thrilled about this: along with that photo came a risk of his point being obscured under an avalanche of "OMG THAT PHOTO"s - hell, just see this post's headline. Suddenly, the biggest story was the photo - in other words, the story was the exact opposite of the author's intended story, which urged appreciation of Vick for the depths from which he's fought back - a story "that has nothing to do with race."
But oh, did that photo ever get people talking over its short-lived history. And a lot of that talk was about the column under the photo (if also noting that the the photo was antithetical to the author's point). It made us wonder if, rather than being a tone-deaf decision, the choice to include the white Vick photo was calculated to get people talking, and to potentially get more eyeballs on the column itself. The fact that the photo was then removed of course, seems to undermine that idea (UPDATE: or not, since it's back up).
We contacted ESPN asking them about the reason for the removal of the photo (UPDATE: it's now back up - we're hearing it was re-posted "after clearing up some photo rights issues"). After the re-posting of the photo, ESPN the Magazine editor-in-chief Chad Millman said in a statement that "we firmly stand by our representation of the story and the photo-illustration." Still, though, it's worth noting Touré, and many others, believed ESPN's decision to remove the original photo - no matter how much chatter it might have generated - was the right one (no matter the reasoning behind it). At some point, the extra publicity stops being worth it if it's bad publicity - and if the publicity has nothing to do with what's being publicized in the first place.
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