Vick could make NAACP look like Chicken Little

OPINION -- By dragging the NAACP into the fray, chapter president J. Whyatt Mondesire threatens to make the organization out to be no better than a Chicken Little of civil rights...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Last week, in a page right out of the civil rights playbook of the late 20th century, J. Whyatt Mondesire, the president of the NAACP’s Philadelphia chapter stood in front of a bank of microphones, cameras and notebooks and declared that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was being denied a chance to return to the NFL by animal rights groups.

Mondesire’s approach was so old school that his attire – a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and pinstripe jacket – looked like something from a Blaxploitation movie. It’s hard to know, however, what is more lamentable: the speciousness of Mondesire’s charges or his trading on the reputation and noble history of the NAACP to get a name or image into the public sphere.

Now marking its 100th anniversary, the NAACP has enjoyed a historic status as a quiet, but powerful force for change. While preachers Martin Luther King Jr., Joseph Lowery and Ralph Abernathy were publicly leading the civil rights movement 50 years ago with moral force, it was longtime NAACP executive director Roy Wilkins and chief Washington lobbyist Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to secure the rights of people of color in Washington. No doubt Wilkins, Mitchell and W.E.B. DuBois would have recoiled in horror last week to see Mondesire’s attempt to align himself with Vick so publicly.

Benjamin Jealous, the relatively new CEO of the NAACP, probably wasn’t too thrilled to hear of Mondesire’s prattling, since Jealous has made moving the association into the 21st century a goal of his administration.

Make no mistake: Michael Vick deserves a second chance in the NFL. His crimes against animals shouldn’t disqualify him from an opportunity to rehabilitate himself and his image, especially given that he has fulfilled his obligation to the criminal justice system.

But that doesn’t mean that Vick’s return to football is automatic or should pass without comment. What he did and what he authorized to be done to animals was reprehensible and atrocious. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is entirely correct to demand that Vick demonstrate that he understands the gravity of what he did before he is fully cleared to resume the privilege, not the right, to play again. For Mondesire to declare, as he did Thursday, that the “dialogue here has been all one-sided,” against Vick is misguided at best and cynical at worst.

The NFL fraternity, past and present, has nearly entirely lined up behind Vick, expressing displeasure at his prior conduct, but support for his return. They and Vick himself, through his good deportment, are much better equipped to make the case than Mondesire.

And seriously: In what way is Michael Vick’s supposed “right” to play football impinged by a group of animal rights protestors? By dragging the NAACP into the fray, Mondesire threatens to make the organization out to be no better than the Chicken Little of civil rights, a group that runs about screaming that the sky is falling, when it isn’t.

This isn’t the first time Mondesire, also publisher of the Philadelphia Sun, has immersed himself in the Eagles’ quarterback fortunes. Four years ago, he charged that Donovan McNabb had failed as a team leader and that McNabb’s seeming unwillingness to run “belittles the real struggles of black athletes who’ve had to overcome real racial stereo-typecasting in addition to downright segregation.”

Sounds like J. Whyatt Mondesire is much better cut out for a future as a sports radio talk show host than as a civil rights leader.