The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, August 31, 2007


“The secret to Life” said Old Perry
“Is to eat, and to drink, and be merry.
To my very last breath
I’ll outrun Mr. Death
Til I’m too goddam ancient to bury.”

Almost there, old son. Another few years, and they’ll have to re-set your odometer. HAPPY 60TH, STEVE!!
Dammit, I have to miss a free trip to Antigua this year—I’m already booked for the Miami Book Faire, and a Black Speculative Fiction conference. If you’ve never been to Antigua, you’re missing a fabulous vacation spot.
On the Michael Vick dog-fighting case. Abominable. But I doubt if people would have been as upset were it, say, cock fighting. Why? Because we don’t eat dogs, that’s why. If I was a rooster, I might very well prefer to being a fighting rooster—at least then I’d have a chance. Much like being a bull in a bull-fight. At least you have a chance, however small. But we love our dogs, and the spectacle of Man’s Best Friend bred, raised, and conditioned for such savagery rips our hearts out.

What do I think of him as a human being? Well, he’s not likely to be as empathetic to the condition of his fellow man as the average person. While the inability to empathize with animals doesn’t necessarily map over to humans…I still have to say I doubt I’d want him as a neighbor.

What of his career as a football player? We’ll see what’s left of him after his jail time. A year or two is a lifetime in the career of a professional athlete. Even if he still has his chops, sports is show business, based not merely on ones stats, but the ability to hold the loyalty of the crowd. I suspect that he may have crossed a line, such that the next time that he takes the field, he’ll get booed.

Is that fair? For him to have made a mistake that denies him the ability to use his skills to make a living? Well…you know, that’s life, in one way. It won’t be the government taking his livelihood away, in the final analysis. It will be the market-place. Yes, Mike Tyson was still a big draw after his rape conviction. But I think that’s because people had put him in the category of “barely human animal we like to watch nearly kill people” rather than “athlete.” Athletes are linked to the warrior ethic, where the young men of the village compete not merely to demonstrate prowess but to refine it. Ultimately, we react to them as we do because we understand that the safety of our children depends largely on the strength of those who guard the walls.

We NEED our warriors to be capable of great violence, but expect them to keep it under control. How many dogs were found on his property? Forty corpses? That’s a serial killing. How many dogs are worth a human life? Some would say thousands. Others that animals are more precious than humans. Most of us are somewhere in-between. When we see someone of formidable physical skill, if they are also violent, it is frightening. It unravels part of the fabric of our society—our trust in those more physically capable than ourselves.

At the least, we can no longer hold such men and women up as heroes to our children. They become cautionary tales at best. But we want more than that. We want them to be heroic. Exemplary. We want them to be destinations to inspire our children, and ourselves. So we pay them vast sums of money to exhibit their very special skills. And we are, in my mind, fully justified to withdraw our affection when our trust is betrayed.

Yes, he’s just an athlete. No one should take that away from him. But a rich and beloved athlete? That we deserve a vote on. It’s our money, ultimately. Even more importantly, it’s our love.

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