News » Ask a Negro Leaguer

Fighting Chance

Joe growls at the Michael Vick dogfighting scandal.


Hey Joe: How do you feel about the Michael Vick dogfighting controversy? I just think it's another way to project negative images of successful black ballplayers. Nobody cares about animals living in the street that walk around with hair missing from their asses and missing an ear. Whether or not this practice is legal, I think it was blown out of proportion due to the fact it was Vick.

Bliss Boussant, Los Angeles

When I first about this from Larry LeGrande, a former Negro Leaguer and close friend of mine who resides in Roanoke, Virginia, I was terribly shaken. Larry and I played for Goose Tatum's Detroit Clowns in 1958. For the past decade during college-football season, Mike Vick has been a main topic of his, being that Vick was a resident of Newport News and played for Virginia Tech.

After the story broke, a black male appeared on TV with his voice disguised and face unrecognizable, saying the dogfighting took place on Vick's property and that his dogs took part. It was said that he made these statements because he'd run afoul of the law and his testimony would shorten his sentence.

I am reminded of a farmer who had three daughters. The daughters had a parrot. Each time the farmer planted corn, crows would swoop down and eat it shortly after it came up from the soil. On one such occasion, he decided to settle this with his shotgun, but on the same day his daughters decided to let the parrot out. Being a bird, the parrot decided to join the crows. After shooting at the birds, the farmer went out to see how many crows he had killed. Upon reaching the site, he found three dead and the parrot lying wounded nearby. Saddened, he picked up the parrot and headed home. His daughters, seeing him with the parrot, admonished him for being so cruel. Before he could explain, the parrot cried out, "Bad company...bad company...bad company!" Same thing happened in Vick's case.

I would like to sympathize with him, but I am unable. Those who enjoy dogfighting, cockfighting, etc., are cold-hearted. (Remember Birmingham, when dogs were sicced on blacks?) Vick placed himself in the limelight for a bad image of him to be projected.

Bob Hille of the Sporting News took advantage: "OK, are you surprised by this dog thing? After all, isn't Vick the one who taught the Falcons to roll over and play dead?"

In that sense, I think he's really speaking about Peyton Manning. Had not those wideouts made circus catches and another player made a great interception, Manning would still be in search of his first Super Bowl victory. Given this same opportunity prior, he flunked because he was too slow to get out of the pocket and then made every excuse conceivable about his defense breaking down.

Had Vick been bottled up in the same situation, he would have come outta there like a shot. Otherwise, the only answer I have for Vick is: "I'm sorry. I don't support immorality. You made your bed hard. Now lay in it."

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

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