8.18.2009

Thoughts on Michael Vick


I've avoided commenting on the Philadelphia Eagles' signing of Michael Vick last week, since it's been covered so extensively that I'm not sure I have any new ground to cover. But a friend of mine asked me for my take, so at the risk of rehashing what someone else has said far more eloquently than I and of opening myself up to a torrent of criticism or rebuttal, here are six angles to this story I don't agree with.

* What he did was so heinous that he doesn't deserve a second chance. Have we so given up on people who have committed crimes that we want their punishment to last far longer than what justice has determined they merit? Here's a guy who did hard time, lost all his material possessions, and had his reputation completely obliterated. I'm not asking for your sympathy for this; he deserved all this. But he's paid his debt, and now it's time for him to move on, live in the lessons he's learned, and earn a living. Hey, it's easy to sort the world into good people and bad people, to call ourselves the good people, and then tell the bad people they have to suffer forever. More complicated but more honest to say that we're all the same, and some of us sometimes do bad things that merit societal punishment, after which we should be encouraged to get on with our lives and do something positive, not be shunned and branded forever.

* Young people look up to NFLers; what sort of message does this send? It sends the message that no matter how good you are at what you do, no matter how rich and famous you get, if you commit a crime, you will suffer the penalty, and it will be steep. And it sends the message that if you have messed up and ended up in the gutter with nothing to your name, sometimes there's still a chance at redemption. And it sends the message that in this world, there are good people like Tony Dungy and Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb, none of them perfect, but all of them willing to put their arm around a vilified outcast, stand up for him and stand next to him, and help him make right what he had made wrong.

* The Eagles are being disingenuous when they say this is about second chances; this is about winning football games and making money. I haven't read enough to know all of what the Eagles are saying, but it doesn't appear that they're saying they're doing this solely out of charity; they want to win a Super Bowl and they think Vick will help them do that. Why do we need to pit an organization's desire to excel with the opportunity it can have to help a fellow member, as if you can only do one or the other, and if you say you're doing one you are automatically not able to do the other? In this very city, one of Mayor Nutter's first moves in office was to courageously offer a tax credit for any local employer that hired an ex-con. We have a lot of those around here, you know, and among the many needs in their lives is gainful employment to provide them with dignity and purpose and money. And Mayor Nutter basically said, "Getting these men and women a job is of public policy value to our citizenry." But if I'm an employer thinking about taking him up on this tax break (and, sadly, not very many have), I'm not saying, "Lemme do an act of charity and hire this person, even though he or she isn't really going to help my business." Rather, they're saying, "I'm going to hire this person because I have a position to fill in running my business that this person can fill, and the tax break helps me do it." In other words, we should look for and celebrate ways we can help others and ourselves at the same time. The Eagles are looking for the Vick signing to be just that; and somehow the fact that this is good for them makes it somehow less noble or less pure?

* This is a bad football move in that Donovan McNabb will now be looking over his shoulder all the time. McNabb was the one who first put the idea in management's head. He considers himself Vick's friend and big brother. He also considers himself the leader of the Eagles, and with Brian Dawkins' departure, he unquestionably is. So whatever he says, goes; as he has embraced Vick, so have his teammates, and if McNabb fails as the starter, his team fails as well. That's the responsibility McNabb wants, and that's what he deserves, as the face and the heart of this football team.

* I'm a dog lover, and what Michael Vick did was reprehensible. I'll close with this one. I know there are some true blue dog lovers out there, for whom cruelty to dogs is painful to even fathom. I have no words that can soothe that wound. What I can say is that even though people are sometimes harder to love than dogs, they deserve some semblance of similar sympathy. And, in this very city, 188 people have been murdered since January 1, an average of about 300 a year for the entire decade. In this country, about 1500 children die as a result of abuse or neglect each year. In the world, there are estimated to be 246 million child slaves and bonded child laborers. Where is the outrage for that loss of human life and dignity? If we cannot bear to think about dogs being tortured and in some cases killed, why do we go about our daily lives undisturbed by the fact that humans are being degraded, abused, and gunned down? My point here is not that it is wrong when we hurt for dogs being hurt, but that it is wrong when we don't hurt for humans being hurt.

I don't begrudge those who refuse to cut Michael Vick slack, or who have sold their season tickets, or who have written strongly worded letters to Eagles management. It's a free country, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. This is mine.
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