The Tarnishing Of The South’s Crown Jewel

A beautiful and historic city, Atlanta, Georgia, sprang to international prominence in 1996, when it hosted the Summer Olympics.  Piggybacking on this spotlight, Atlanta flourished.  With its lovely weather, affordable homes outstanding educational institutions such as Spellman, Emory, and Morehouse, Atlanta attracted visitors and new residents from all over the world. 

Atlanta also became known as a mecca for entrepreneurs lured by its fertile business opportunities.  Atlanta provided an outlet for sports enthusiasts of every kind with professional teams such as the Atlanta Falcons, the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Hawks.  Not to mention the many college sports.  Atlanta became know as the south’s crown jewel.  On Sunday night, September 18, 2011, the south’s crown jewel became horribly tarnished.

The Atlanta Falcons fought a hard-won battle against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles’ starting quarterback was Michael (Mike) Vick, once the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. Mike Vick, as so many young athletes do, made a terrible decision that changed his life forever. He was convicted of and served time for his participation in dogfighting. He not only disgraced himself, but he let down thousands of fans who’d looked up to him as a hero.

This sentence bears repeating: He was convicted of and served time for his participation in dogfighting. According to our judicial system, he has served his time and paid his debt to society. Even with this debt already having been paid, it is worth noting that Mick Vick continues to speak to youth groups across the country. He has humbled himself to the point where he goes before these young people, many of them aspiring athletes, admits to and apologizes over and over again for what he did, and puts his all into warning them to stay away from this dangerous path.

Here is where the story turns ugly. Late in the game, Mick Vick was injured during a play in which a Falcon, in a clean hit, pushed Vick, whose helmet collided with the helmet of a one of his own Eagle teammates. Unfortunate yes, but one of the sad possibilities that always exist in the sometimes brutal game of football. There was no foul play.

What was foul was the reaction of a large number of Atlanta fans. They booed Vick as he was taken into the locker room to be examined. I am an avid watcher of both professional and college football and I have never ever seen such a cheap and degrading lack of class displayed by a mob of so-called sports fans. I’m not saying this as an outsider looking in, I lived in Atlanta for 10 years and dearly love that city. I am ashamed of what took place last night.

Athletes put their bodies at risk all the time. Yes, they do it for the often heady amounts of fame and monetary earnings, but also for love of the sport. They provide me and many other sports fans with countless hours of entertainment. I’d like to remind my former neighbors that one of the key elements of athletics is sportsmanship. Not just for the athletes, but for the fans.

Whether or not a fan tries to live by the scripture (John 8:7) that says let he who is without sin cast the first stone, one does not have to be a biblical scholar to exhibit common decency. There are some hard-hearted Hannahs and Hanks who will never forgive Mick Vick even if he’d served 200 years in prison. That’s between you, your conscience and God.

The point is an athlete was down on the field. I watched in dismay as a crazed throng of fans booed an injured player. What is going on? Are these fans the type of parents that would teach their children to boo a fellow student injured in a schoolyard game of kickball or volleyball?  Would they teach their children to be happy when a diver from the opposing swim team slips and cracks his head on the edge of the diving board? Scary thought isn’t it?

Most of the time an injured player is cheered as he is taken from the field, both by fans of the home and opposing team. That is as it should be. But if that is too much to ask, I ask the Atlanta fans to, in the future, show at least some modicum of decorum. Go back to the days and lessons of our other crown jewels, our grandparents. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. In the eyes of the millions of television watchers, Atlanta’s fans would have been much more admired if the stadium, unable to bring themselves to applaud, had at least fallen into silence.

Some may use the excuse that we had no way of knowing, until later reports, that Mick Vick had suffered a concussion. Still, no excuse. Even if it turned out that Vick, or any other player had simply stubbed his toe, there was no call for such an appalling lack etiquette. We can only hope that the next time there is an injured man down on the field, the offending fans (for we cannot and must not lump all Atlanta fans into this group) will have learned better and will do better.

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