Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Nature or Nurture?

While I've been mainly focusing on the shit sammich I've been forced to eat over the last few months, there have been a variety of unique news items which have piqued my interest on more than one occasion. Recently, I've been observing Ariel Sharon's health deteriorate -- and with it, perhaps, Israel's chance at a meaningful, legitimate peace with her neighbors -- and that's been a sad unfolding of events. But while there are real news stories that are sad, significant and/or memorable, there is none more interesting than that of Marcus Vick.

Marcus Vick, the younger brother of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, has has a noteworthy, and busy, collegiate career. His brother Michael, known around and beyond the NFL as one of the league's top players, attended Virginia Tech and was so exemplary in his abilities as a player that he was selected number 1 in the NFL Draft in 2001. Since then, he's been respectable -- not stellar -- but has always been a well-known, oft-mentioned player.

There are some notable similarities between the two brothers. Both are approximately six feet tall and weigh about the same -- 213 to 215. Both are talented, able quarterbacks -- and both had great success on the field for Virginia Tech. That is, of course, until Marcus was kicked off the team on January 6th.

Marcus Vick, 21, has had a long and storied career as a football player at Virginia Tech. However, his off-the-field activities have made him equally famous. As far back as September, 2003, he was suspended from the team -- presumably as a freshman -- for undisclosed reasons. Then, in February, 2004, he was arrested for providing alcohol to four underage girls and for having sex with a 15-year-old girl (it's assumed the girl listed in the latter charge was one of the four listed in the former). He was acquitted of the latter charge, but convicted of the former; he was sentenced to 30 days in prison and a fine of $2,500. The then-19-year-old Vick next met up with police at 2:30AM in July of that same year, when he was pulled over for speeding (going 86 in a 65 mph zone). Upon pulling the car over, police also charged him with marijuana possession after a waft of smoke hit the officer; upon learning of the arrest, Virginia Tech suspended him from the team indefinitely -- for "off-field problems."

In August, after he pleaded guilty to speeding and no contest to the possession charge, Tech suspended him for the season. September brought more dalliances with underage girls, and again he was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In the plea deal, he agreed to a 30-day suspended jail sentence, a $100 fine, and to stay away from the young women.

In January, 2005, he was allowed to return to the team, and until October, he stayed clear of controversy. However, he was caught -- on camera -- making obscene gestures to fans at West Virginia who were taunting him in connection with his checkered past. He apologized a day later and was not reprimanded.

His next appearance in the spotlight was in December, when he was again pulled over -- this time with a suspended license -- for speeding. He was going 38 in a 25, but by driving with a suspended license, he was due back in court. As of this writing, that date has not yet been set. However, he had more important matters on his mind: January 2nd, Virginia Tech faced Louisville in the Gator Bowl; he had a great game and Virginia Tech beat Louisville 35-24. However, during the game, Vick was caught on tape stomping on the left calf of Louisville's All-American defensive end Elvis Dumervil. After the game, Vick claimed it was accidental and he apologized to Dumervil, who denied receiving any apology from Vick.

Four days later, he was permanently kicked off the team.

A day later, he announced he was going pro.

And yesterday, he surrendered to police and charged with threatening three teenagers in a McDonald's with a gun.

Forgive my possible naivete, but when someone demonstrates a degree of stupidity that only is exceeded by their inability to learn from their own mistakes, why should anyone expect anything from them beyond more and more stupidity?

Athletes are and have been traditionally regarded as not intellectually gifted. And, for the most part, a good number of athletes are brought up in less-than-ideal conditions; many are brought up in near-poverty, in small, blue-collar towns, and the majority only pursue education because of and as a result of their athletic ability. So seeing how the younger Vick has managed, in only three years, to demonstrate he is a moronic, selfish, inconsiderate asshole, is surprising, given his older brother's exemplary reputation both on- and off the field.

Some athletes are people with serious problems: Daryl Strawberry's drug addiction, Lawrence Taylor's drug addiction, a number of athletes who have used and abused steroids to achieve success. Then there are the selfish, self-absorbed jerks like Terrell Owens who simply don't get it. And then there are morons like Marcus Vick.

It's fairly likely that some team will take a chance and draft, or at least, sign, Marcus Vick to a professional contract. And that's all well and good. I am hoping, however, that whoever signs him first learns the story of Lawrence Phillips, a talented athlete who played -- briefly -- for both the San Francisco 49'ers and the Rams. Both teams took a chance on him because he had immense talent, but he also had a tremendous inability to coexist with normal, well-adjusted human beings.

So, as I read the story of Marcus Vick, I am -- in my typical, jaded, cynical manner -- counting the days until he is signed by an NFL team to a seven-figure contract, only to piss away that opportunity by doing something stupid -- like driving 120 mph in a leased Mercedes, get pulled over, and arrested for possession or DWI. And I wonder if our entertainment -- sports teams, beer, advertising, sales -- is worth rewarding stupidity, immaturity and behavior that would land most of us in prison to people who prove -- time and time again -- that they not only don't deserve it, but that given the opportunity, they will go out of their way to fail -- miserably.

What amazes me more is the huge disparity between these two Vicks. Maybe it's true that the environment plays a huge role in how people turn out: their upbringing, their friends, their neighborhoods...but knowing these two brothers followed the same path, achieved very similar things, and had the same goals -- at least initially -- makes one wonder how much of a role nurture really plays in this equation. And also, how long before Marcus Vick commits a crime that is not easily-dismissed or resolved by a $300 fine and a month in jail.

Tick tick tick tick tick tick...

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