Jan 7, 2011

The Bizarre Case of Mike Vick

With the NFL playoffs starting this weekend, there is a new rash of articles about whether or not we should be cheering for Mike Vick, quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles.  For those three of you who don't know what this is all about, Vick was the superstar quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons.  Back in 2007, it was shown that Vick was in charge of a dog fighting ring - and was personally involved in the torture and killing of dogs.  He then was sentenced to 23 months in prison.  He served about 18 months of that sentence.  Then he returned to the NFL.  His first stint was as a backup and "wildcat" quarterback for the Eagles.  This year, though, he worked his way into the starting job.  And, over the course of this year, he has frequently shown the brilliance he used to exhibit, with a more mature temperament.  The Eagles won the NFC East and are a scary playoff team.

Back in 2007, there was much uproar about Vick's wrongdoings.  People came up with all sorts of suggestions for him.  They wanted him stripped of endorsements (which happened), penalized for his signing bonus (also happened), banned for life from the NFL (didn't happen), and beaten and treated like a fighting dog (uh, I don't think this happened).  Shoot, even I weighed in on the issue with this Pulitzer Prize winning post.  I went back and read it and the following quote stood out from all of the other stellar points:
My hope is that Vick and his buddies get a fast fair trial (supposedly in October). I hope that if they are truly involved in this, they are found guilty. And if they are, I want them to get the maximum sentence (six years in prison, huge butt fine). And then I want Mike Vick to be stripped of every endorsement he has. I want him to be banned from football for life. I want Nike and Powerade and the Falcons to sue him to get back signing bonuses and contract money. And then I want THAT to be the precedent for the other NFL athletes who decide to get involved in despicable actions. That would send a nice clear message.
It was a pretty high and mighty position to take.  But, what happens when Vick does something we don't expect?  Instead of remaining that arrogant evil supervillain we all had gotten used to seeing, he actually seemed to change.  He was a backup.  He supported the started. He said all the right things - and seemed to really genuinely mean them.  He created Public Service Announcements speaking out against dog fighting.  He made donations to help protect animals.  He has openly stated in interviews that he was wrong.  And it wasn't that simpering apology we are used to with stars.  He was explicit in stating his wrongness.  He has apologized.  He served his time.  He worked his way back up to the top.  And, when he got a second chance, he seized it.

Normally, we here in America are complete suckers for a comeback story. We love it when a player hits bottom and then scrapes their way to the top again. Shoot, we don't just feel that way about athletes - we feel that about all kinds of people. Robert Downey Jr, Mickey Rourke, and Sandra Bullock are all examples of this. They were down professionally, and then we embraced them once they finally got their talent to match their opportunities - while not shooting themselves in the foot. Donald Trump went from an egomaniacal billionaire to a bankrupt egomaniacal former billionaire to a beloved egomaniacal billionaire again. George Foreman was more loved on his second run at the heavyweight championship, and turned himself into a multi-million dollar industry.

In sports, we have awards like "Comeback Player of the Year." We celebrate players who can make it back from bad years or injuries. It is part of the sports culture. We do the same thing with teams. Would the Saints have been so supported last year if they had not always stunk and if the city hadn't been underwater? We love stories like that - overcoming the odds to reclaim success. So why is Michael Vick still so hated?

His crimes were heinous. That much is true. Injuring and killing animals is depraved and shows a major moral deficiency. He did his time. He was reinstated. He worked hard to get back in shape - mentally and physically. And he was willing to take a secondary position.  And he still has to deal with booing fans and newspapers running headlines like "Michael Vick: Top Dog." There are still fans who think he never should have been allowed back into the league.

It is bizarre. There are other players who have been suspended and brought back. Few have met the open hostility Vick has. Bret Favre has battled both painkiller and alcohol addiction issues - and scandalous accusations of his sexual impropriety while on the Jets.  Ray Lewis stabbed a man to death (allegedly). Donte Stallworth killed a pedestrian. Jamal Lewis ran a drug ring. Manny Ramirez and multiple others did steroids. And that is not to mention the countless drug using arrests, DWI arrests, domestic abuse arrests, holdouts, and halfheartedly played games. So, why is Michael Vick getting the short end of the stick?

It comes down to the fact that there are two things you can't do in this world - hurt a kid and hurt a dog. Think about it. In the movies, that is how you really know a villain is a SUPER villain. They are willing to hurt a dog. I remember watching Independence Day in the theater when it came out. There was a scene after the aliens started to attack. Fire is boiling down the streets of Manhattan - destroying everything in its path. A small group of people race into an alleyway. Their dog is chasing after them. The whole audience was terrified the dog wasn't going to make it. Now, mind you, like five million PEOPLE had just been crispified. The White House was destroyed. All over the world, complete devastation. But, dang it, if that dog had died, it would have been too much to take.

I think that is the kicker. He hurt dogs. They are cute and innocent. And, according to Vietnamese people, quite tasty. That is not to minimize his crimes. But it is to remember that they were animals. he was sentenced. He did his time. He is allowed to come back. Good for him if he does well. Why should he be denied the opportunity to earn a living? Vick would have been better off running a real life Fight Club or a human trafficking ring than a dog fighting ring. Then, he would have probably already have earned redemption.

As for me, I have changed my view.  I am glad that he was reinstated.  And I am glad for him that he has made the most of his opportunities.  Isn't that what our prison system is supposed to be all about?  Isn't the goal to rehabilitate people?  To teach them the right way to do things?  So, by all accounts of everyone who knows Vick, that happened.  He turned his life around, saw the error of his ways, and made a life change.  Is he supposed to be punished forever?  I don't think that is something that America stands for.  As a Christian, I know that does not mesh with my beliefs.

I don't have a team in the playoffs this year.  My Jaguars choked away their chance (shocking, I know).  The Bucs were kept out of the playoffs by the powerhouse 7-9 Seahawks "earning" a spot.  I have a soft spot for the Saints, because I like Drew Brees and I know Heath Evans - the Saints' fullback.  (Oh, I'm sorry.  I'll pick up that name I dropped.)  And, even though the Patriots are annoying, I am very impressed with how that organization operates.  But I will be cheering for Vick.  I want him to do well and to succeed.  That will give him an even bigger pulpit to speak out and teach others - and to show people that second chances do exist.  I don't like what he did.  But I like what he has become - and what lessons that can teach.

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