Why I Can Never Root For Michael Vick: A Hopefully Rational Viewpoint
Recently, I’ve read three articles written by prominent sports media figures describing why they are rooting for Michael Vick to succeed and become a inspirational story as he plays for the Philadelphia Eagles: Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports, Bill Simmons of ESPN.com, and Barry Petchesky of Deadspin. The gist for all three is the same: Vick has paid his dues to society for dogfighting, and deserves to become a role model for future generations for battling through his own demons and adversity. To some degree or another, they all indicate that they understand why some may disagree.
These articles, like many that have come out since Vick’s incarceration (and especially after Donte Stallworth’s lesser sentence for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk), use similar reasoning for many of their arguments. Vick went to jail for killing those animals, they say, and has paid his dues. They also point fingers at people like Leonard Little and Stallworth, both of whom killed human beings while drunk and are therefore much worse, using the reasoning that killing a person is much worse than killing a dog. Some even point to Ray Lewis and his never-revealed ties to the stabbing death of a man. If these men are allowed to play football and succeed without repercussions, the argument goes, then why not Vick? Why do people still hold a grudge against him? Whitlock even goes so far as to refer to Vick as Underdog.
I understand. Jason Whitlock makes a good living writing controversial things. I enjoy his work immensely, even when I don’t agree with him. He feeds his family this way, and more power to him. I think he goes to far with the Underdog nickname, however: to so lightly dismiss the actions of a man who killed and tortured dogs on a regular basis by smugly attaching a canine nickname is, at the very least, displaying incredibly poor taste, regardless of his personal opinions. Be that as it may; I concur with these men that killing humans is not the same as killing an animal (Rae Carruth is certainly serving more time for his part in murdering a human, justly so, yet no one brings him up to compare his situation to Vick’s). I know of no one that argues this point, at least rationally. As to Vick paying his societal dues, I also concur, with only the stipulation that we recognize that Michael Vick did NOT go to jail for torturing and killing dogs: he went to jail for violating interstate gambling laws. He served no time for killing animals, only the act of wagering on their fights. I would also like to say that I love meat. I adore veal. Like Simmons, I am somewhat bothered by the practice of how veal comes to be, but I enjoy eating animals, and make no apologies for that. If Vick had killed those pit bulls to feed his family, then I wouldn’t have a problem with that. However, the multi-million dollar athlete did not need to do so, so let’s just leave aside any comparisons to hunting or buying steaks at the store.
With that said – and I’d like to reiterate for clarity: lives of human beings are more important than lives of animals, and Vick is entitled to be a free man – I’d like to try to explain why I, and many others, can never bring ourselves to cheer for Vick, or wish him well, or find him anything but reprehensible, in a rational and logical manner.
The torture and killing of those dogs revealed something fundamentally twisted about Vick’s character. He did this willingly. On the inside, he found nothing wrong with the systematic killing and torturing of an animal. Neither Stallworth or Little, I would hazard to guess, deliberately set out to kill someone when they drove drunk, and intent is very important in both the law and in how we judge others in society. The comparison to them, then, isn’t quite apples to apples. The animal that he chose for this is one that has been domesticated by humans for thousands of years. Simmons and Petchesky have them as pets (I don’t know about Whitlock, so can’t say). Dogs are an important and beloved part of our culture. While many of us work to rescue them, or raise them, or teach them to guide the blind or find drugs or bombs or other useful and important functions, Vick preferred to see them maul each other to death, or do the killing himself when they were no longer useful. To me, this reveals a lot of Vick and his lack of ability to feel empathy. Deep down, he felt, and I would imagine he still feels to this day, that there was absolutely nothing wrong with what he did.
There are many other crimes that indicate this same mindset. Serial killers and pedophilia come to mind, since they also reveal the fact that the perpetrator honestly doesn’t think what he is doing is wrong, or at least not bad enough to stop him from committing the act. Ah! But that argument is inadmissible! The victims in both of these crimes are humans, and if we accept that humans > dogs, then these comparisons can be brushed aside. All right, then, let me compare it to another crime, where the victim is an animal: bestiality. Hear me out.
If Vick had bred and kept dogs to have sex with them, it would have revealed that, deep down, he felt that there is nothing wrong with that action. If that had been his crime, he would have, say, maybe done some time for trespassing or a brief amount for cruelty. His image in the public eye, however, would be beyond destroyed. I can’t imagine society in general embracing him after years of having sex with dogs, and referring to him as Underdog in that case would be a sniggering poke at him.
But Vick, in reality, didn’t have sex with dogs. He killed them. He tortured them. He did these acts regularly and enjoyed it. If we as a society would find him repulsive and disgusting for having sex with dogs, why should it be strange that there are those of us who find him even more reprehensible for the slaughtering, abusing, and electrocuting them? It is this, the fact that he willfully and purposefully destroyed animals for his own amusement and the entertainment of others, that I find disgusting. I have no doubt that any of us would be disturbed to know that our neighbor bred and bought poodles, only to periodically drown them or electrocute them when they no longer served his purpose. I don’t care if he’s an athlete, a doctor, a homeless man: anyone who engages in this kind of behavior regularly is disturbed, fundamentally. I wouldn’t hope that my neighbor gets his promotion, or cheer him as he becomes a success. I’d avoid him, because clearly the dude is off, mentally.
I imagine that Vick will never dogfight again, because he doesn’t want to go to prison: a valid, rational path. I still believe, however, that he still doesn’t find the facts of what he did wrong in a moral sense, even if he does acknowledge wrongdoing in a legal sense. They were his property, and he did with them as he desired. I’d ask Bill Simmons or Barry Petchesky to look at their own dogs and think to themselves exactly what it would take for them to connect their dogs to a car battery until they died. I doubt they’d be able to do it, or at least I’d hope so. It takes something wrong or twisted inside to find that behavior normal, in my opinion. I can’t get past it.
I’ll happily admit that I am not an Eagles fan. I am a lifelong Redskins fan, born and raised outside of DC. Don’t, however, dismiss my feelings as that of a divisional rival: I live near Philly now, and would rather see the Eagles win the division, if the Redskins can’t (after a dozen years, I’m used to that), over the Cowboys or Giants, both of whom I hate with the joyful rage of a football fan. My opinion of Vick has nothing to do with football: it is what he did for years, willfully and happily, torturing and killing animals for pleasure that gets to me. So, no, I won’t root for him, in football or in life. If he dedicated his life to rescuing and teaching people that animals are not toys for our amusement, then I’d at least feel like maybe he had changed inside, and I could forgive him and move on. I don’t get that feeling from him though. He did his time for gambling, yes, and I don’t think he needs to be behind bars. But to praise him for being athletic and elusive with a strong arm, and hold him up as an example for others? Umm, no, that’s OK. I’ll pass.