Michael Vick: Can He Ever Be Forgiven?
ESPN: The Magazine took an interesting approach with its NFL preview issue this year by centering the magazine around the resurgence of Michael Vick, his impact on the NFL and our society. Several articles explored Vick’s upbringing, his influence on the game of football and his involvement in dog fighting and his subsequent time in prison.
One article, “The Dog in the Room: A lot of people will never forgive Michael Vick. A lot of people wonder why, too.” by David Fleming, particularly interested me as it examined our culture’s view of pets, especially dogs, and why Vick is so vilified in some pockets of our society.
“In the fight for sole possession of the moral high ground, the fierceness of Vick’s supporters and foes often leads to a complete dismissal of the opposition’s valid points. For some African-Americans, a suspicion that somewhere along the way this increased devotion to animals directly correlates to a decreased respect for humans has hardened into excusing Vick of any wrongdoing altogether. There are cries of racism when perhaps speciesism may be more accurate. At the same time, animal rights activists can seem to be indulging their misanthropic side. Pets are easy to love — humans, not so much.
This blurring of boundaries between the welfare of humans and animals is at the heart of Vick’s pariah status. In this country, almost 40 million dog owners consider their pets to be a part of the family. A 2001 survey of pet owners revealed that 83 percent referred to themselves as their animals’ “mommy” or “daddy.” That’s one reason that when Vick pleaded guilty to managing a dogfighting ring, people responded as if he had serially murdered children. “Vick should never ever, be publicly supported again — ever,” said Simon Cowell of American Idol fame. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a public letter to the NFL titled “Is Michael Vick a Clinically Diagnosable Psychopath?” White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle admitted in an interview with mlb.com to openly rooting for Vick to get hurt. “Some things are considered sacred in our culture, and they tend to cluster around the defense of the innocent such as animals and children,” says veterinarian and USA Today columnist Patty Khuly. “There are a lot of pitfalls in directly comparing animals and babies, but the need to defend them comes from the same place.”
In December of last year, just as Vick was making a run for MVP (he lost to Tom Brady), pundit Tucker Carlson appeared on Fox News and declared that the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year “should have been executed” for his crimes. The outrageous statement was denounced so quickly (even by Carlson) that it denied us the chance to examine the hypocrisy and moral paradoxes behind Carlson’s — and our own — viewpoints on animal cruelty. For starters: Did Carlson also believe his stepmom should be put to death? She is, after all, the heir of Carl A. Swanson, founder of Swanson frozen foods — a company that in its heyday slaughtered hundreds of millions of chickens. “People should look at what they’re eating and what they’re spending their dollars on and what kind of animal abuse they themselves are supporting,” says Singer. “And if they haven’t taken a good look at that, I don’t think they have much right to criticize Vick.”
The same night Carlson went after Vick, the TV was awash with Old Spice deodorant commercials starring Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. “Women want me, men want to be me,” said Lewis. Surreal, considering that less than 10 years ago the pitchman stood in an Atlanta courtroom and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a double stabbing murder following Super Bowl XXXIV. The reason Vick’s crimes continue to stay in the spotlight while Lewis’ history or Ben Roethlisberger’s alleged acts of sexual misconduct don’t is that there are at least 40 times as many animal lovers as there are NFL season-ticket holders. And their pets have become the antidotes to something Mother Teresa described as the most terrible poverty of human existence: loneliness. “I don’t know if dogs are sacred. But so many people have these personal relationships with them,” says Singer. “They are very loyal animals, very uncritical animals. Because of that people can’t imagine doing to them the kinds of things that Vick did.”
Vick’s case has raised all sorts of issues about which animals should be protected and which shouldn’t. For example, would we feel the same about him if he had done the things he did to chickens or cows? Some people have questioned whether a person like Vick can be truly rehabilitated. Can he?
Since I’m a firm believer that those that have done horrible things to people can be forgiven then I have to believe that Michael Vick can be forgiven. He has admitted what he did was wrong. He has done his time. He’s seeking to help educate others of the horrors of animal cruelty. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and trust that his remorse is sincere. What Vick did was inexcusable but I wonder why some of us are more troubled by what he did than the crimes that are committed towards our fellow humans that don’t affect us as deeply. It’s something to think about it…
I grew up near Detroit and graduated from Central Michigan University. I’m married to my beautiful wife, Lori, and am blessed with four great kids. I am currently the National Director of Field Programs for The Impact Movement, a ministry committed to producing Christian leaders of African descent. I enjoy exploring the role that faith plays in the issues of everyday life.
Thoughts on the intersection of race, religion, politics, ministry, sports and culture.