Kind of Red

December 29, 2010

Vicktory

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Painted One @ 8:44 pm

“God gave me a second chance, I think you should too.”

-Michael Vick (Interview on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning)

Recently I used this space to discuss how sports, “like other modes of entertainment, . . . serve as a medium to convey messages of a given society’s mores.” Perhaps no figure currently embodies the polarizing nature of sports more than Michael Dwayne Vick.  His involvement in a dog-fighting ring several years ago has made him one of the more despised people in all of sports, yet his electrifying style of play endears him to legions of fans across the nation.  In the span of a few days he has won praise from President Obama and simultaneously received calls for his execution.

Nearly two years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles signed him to a two-year contract, hoping he would add an edge of unpredictability to their offensive schemes and adequately serve as the backup of the backup.  This season, when newly appointed quarterback, Kevin Kolb, left the first game of the season due to injury, Michael Vick saw himself in a position many believed would never happen again; he was the starting quarterback for a NFL team.  What transpired after that initial game has become a remarkable tale of redemption.

Michael Vick’s tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles would be mildly irrelevant if he played poorly when offered that opportunity in September.  Nevertheless, he has played spectacularly since he filled in as the starting quarterback, and many have begun suggesting he deserves the league’s most valuable player award.  In slightly more than half of a season, he has completely elevated the expectations for a team many projected to lose half of its games or more.  Now his team has won its division title and fans across Philadelphia are beginning to gleefully imagine an exciting postseason run.  He was named a starter in the 2011 Pro Bowl, is near the league lead in passer rating and has amassed an ever-expanding list of impressive statistics and feats.  In short, his spectacular play this season has showcased his exceptional skills.  It also offers deeper insight into how we view nebulous ideas such as culture, class, race and broad ideas such as forgiveness and redemption.

As a resident of Philadelphia, I regularly hear a self-described “lifelong Eagles fan” declare he/she cannot cheer for the team as long as Michael Vick remains a member of it.  They often offer anecdotes such as their parents put them in an Eagles’ jersey when they were brought home from the hospital, or how they braved the bitter cold as a toddler to attend an Eagles game with their family, or how the Eagles fare during the weekend determines how they view their week.  Now some of these same people say they feel “nothing” when the team plays (I heard similar things when I lived in Atlanta at the time of the dog-fighting investigation).  Others have said that he should never have an opportunity to play in the league again because of his status as a convicted felon.  Many others still protest him at games, both home and away, and news outlets continue to publish reports about the surviving forty-seven dogs.  While these individuals remain entitled to their opinion, I personally find it silly.

The NFL teems with examples of poor judgment and reckless behavior from its players off the field.  Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexually assaulting three women in two years, and currently stars in league sponsored commercials.  Brett Farve was accused of sending several female reporters, who worked for the team he played for at the time, unwanted pictures of his genitalia along with other sexually explicit messages.  It took two years for the media to give the story regular coverage, the coverage was relatively minimal, and only addressed one woman’s allegations.  Another player, Donte Stallworth, killed a man when he drove while intoxicated after Michael Vick was indicted for his involvement with dog-fighting.  He received a sentence of twenty-four days in addition to a one year suspension from the NFL.  Other players have been accused or convicted of other egregious crimes; however, none of these instances have received the same sensationalized coverage that has shadowed Michael Vick for the past three years.  There are obvious differences in each case, but it appears that the NFL (along with those who cover and follow it) values the lives of dogs more than the lives and well being of people.  Either that, or there is an enormous double standard attached to criticism circling Michael Vick.

Michael Vick deserved punishment for his involvement in the dog-fighting ring, Bad Newz Kennelz.  His actions, and those of the other perpetrators, were cruel, heinous and disgusting.  Few would argue such points.  Few should also argue that Michael Vick still owes a debt to society.

Ideally our society’s criminal justice system adheres to utilitarian and retributive theories of punishment in an effort to both to deter future wrongdoing and punish wrongdoers.  By every objective measure society has met these goals in its treatment of Michael Vick.  He was certainly punished: he pled guilty to the felony charges, spent twenty-one months in prison (and two more in home confinement), his former team filed a breach of contract action (the parties settled) to essentially void what was then the most lucrative contract in NFL history, he filed for bankruptcy, the NFL reinstated him under strict conditions and he ultimately morphed from a lauded sports hero to a social pariah in a matter of weeks.

If the story ended there, our criminal justice system has received its debt from Michael Vick.   He has earned his right to reenter society and resume gainful employment; and it should make little difference that his form of gainful employment is professional football.  He has become a faithful believer and more responsible father.  “The man is contrite.  He is humbled.  He is chastened.” As reported by ESPN’s Rick Riley, Michael Vick has given over twenty-four speeches for the Humane Society and has publicly dismissed his former friends.  Moreover, John Goodwin of the Human Society has noted Vick’s public downfall from his involvement with dog-fighting became the tipping point for raising awareness and toughening penalties for dog-fighting.  Yet and still, it has not proven enough for some, in large part because of the way in which they view animals.

Our culture has a complicated relationship with animals.  Most people in America have no notable aversions to eating meat or wearing (or using) products made from animal remains.  Additionally, while most people in our society admittedly do not relish torturing animals, few see the irony in that admission and their casual acceptance of chasing relatively defenseless animals and then killing them for sport.  Moreover, there are few public apprehensions about diminishing the acceptable level of treatment of animals many would use as pets when it serves our desires for entertainment (e.g. greyhound racing, horse racing, et cetera.).   Culture shades the lens with which we see it all.

Unfortunately, generations of people in the United States (and elsewhere for that matter) grew up raising some dogs as pet and others as vicious fighters.  For the most part, they viewed this no differently than other Americans who chase an animal in its natural habitat for several hours, shoot it, slit its throat, and then bring back portions of its carcass to brag to their friends and family.  We cannot ignore the cultural elements that shape our judgments on these issues, though many conveniently have done so because of their own bias and prejudices.  Some cultures revere dogs as an integrated portion of the familial unit, some view dogs as unclean, and other groups of people simply do not like dogs.  Sportswriter Bill Simmons noted that during a conversation with filmmaker Steve James, he learned that some “African-Americans . . . were terrified of dogs because of what happened in the 1960s and earlier, when police frequently used attack dogs to ‘quell’ racial protests.” With regard to dogs, one man’s companion is another man’s antagonist, just like with cows, one man’s meal is another man’s sacred beast.

This does not excuse or justify Vick’s prior actions.  Regardless of contrasting cultural mores, Michael Vick erred tragically, and has acknowledged so publicly.  He has accepted responsibility for his actions and encouraged scores of youth not to make the same mistakes he once did.  Perhaps those who struggle to forgive Michael Vick for his past indiscretions have difficulty doing so because they cannot fathom what could potentially motivate a person to act so cruelly towards another living creature.  Perhaps they cannot understand the inhumane treatment of a beloved animal in ways they could potentially understand driving while intoxicated or could potentially understand allowing inebriation to transform strangers into a paramours.  Regardless of whether we can relate to Michael Vick’s personal indiscretions, we all can relate to how we too err and fall terribly short of even our own lofty expectations.  We all also fall terribly short of God’s standard of perfection.  We might look better than our neighbor to ourselves, but we are a sloppy mess in the eyes of God.  Presumably, that is why Jesus instructed us fallible beings to “judge not,” or we will be judged, and judged by the same standards we judge others.

Perhaps Philadelphia Head Coach Andy Reid understood that when he offered Michael Vick a second chance.  Perhaps his own experience with his sons has offered him insight into how forgiveness and second opportunities can genuinely transform the lives of young men.  In the event Andy Reid had other motives in signing Michael Vick, we have all still witnessed a remarkable tale of how God can work wonders with imperfect people.  Will Michael Vick make the most of his newfound opportunity?  I do not know; only time will tell.  I simply believe he deserved the chance he received, and so far he has performed admirably.  He now merely hopes to peacefully gain his living running with and throwing that pigskin covered football Americans have come to love.  Hopefully, we all can begin to forgive him as swiftly as we forgive the people charged with slaughtering swine so men can throw a ball covered with its skin on Sunday.

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4 Comments »

  1. Tim very good analyis, great writing style, even greater message. You are truly a lawyer but more importantly a child of God. Kudos

    Comment by Ema — December 30, 2010 @ 10:43 am | Reply

  2. Thank you lady. I appreciate it. I try to write from that vantage point, being a child of God that is.

    Comment by The Painted One — December 30, 2010 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

  3. Awesome.

    Comment by Andrea — December 30, 2010 @ 10:17 pm | Reply

  4. […] would our society does not value their lives in the same way we value the lives of others, or even the lives of dogs.  It is as though we do not care about these young African American men until they are no longer […]

    Pingback by You’re Nobody, ’til Somebody Kills You « Kind of Red — March 30, 2012 @ 3:15 pm | Reply


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