Let us establish first and foremost that what Michael Vick was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison for (the organization of a dog fighting ring along with brutal torture of losing animals) was wrong, immoral and generally disgusting. It’s not funny or a matter to be taken lightly in any way. Anyone guilty of a similar crime in the future should be punished within the full extent of the law.
Got all that? Good. Now let’s talk about our treatment of Mr. Vick from here on out.
Last week, Vick’s agent claimed his client had just signed a deal with Nike. Within hours, the vitriol came full blush from the thousands of vocal detractors he’s developed in the last few years. The bile grew acidic enough that Nike was compelled to deny the agent’s claims. Nike said it only supplied the disgraced superstar with gear (read: Nike was sniffing around the idea of signing the still-popular Vick, then panicked at the backlash and decided he wasn’t worth it).
Certainly, there’d be no shortage of people who would see Vick’s lack of endorsements as all too justified. Those people will never believe the man can be punished enough. The guy tortured dogs, killed ‘em and profited from it. But you know what else he did? Time. He languished in jail as his reputation was dogged (pun!) and the millions he was promised from endorsements all went to the dogs too (pun again!).
To those people I ask what is a just punishment for Vick? And from here on, what do you suggest he do?
Let’s take the last question first. What should Vick do now? He’s been under a microscope – not only while in jail and house arrest – but ever since he returned to the NFL. And what missteps has he taken? He’s admitted publicly to his wrongdoing. Said he fully regretted his actions. He’s gone on numerous forums to speak out against animal cruelty. He hasn’t caused a stir among his teammates in Philadelphia or in the press. He’s been humble and above all else – quiet. What else can people ask of him? They could ask that he donate his money to anti-cruelty animal organizations, but he has no money. He lost millions. He’s trying to find a way to escape the debt he’s developed since his incarceration (another manner in which he’s paid for his crime). Perhaps it won’t always be this way, but for now Vick can’t afford to donate money to … anything.
“Good,” many of you will respond. “I hope that monster dies millions of dollars in debt.” And this response brings us to that first question: What would have been a just punishment for Michael Vick’s crimes? If two years in jail, sudden financial instability and a permanently crippled reputation wasn’t a meaty enough sentence, what would be?
Wait. Before you answer, let me counter-argue the point you haven’t yet made. I’m referring to the sweetness and innocence of the dogs Vick helped torture. Murder in any form is unimaginable. But can we not agree that there is a hierarchy of murder and that humans – not dogs – are at the top of it?
In the end, we’re just talking about dogs. Wait (again). Let me put on my athletic supporter before I continue this paragraph. I know how much people love dogs. But should Vick have been tried as if he was running a human-fighting ring? Had Vick been caught cockfighting or forcing birds to peck at one another, there’s no way Michel Vick would have been seen as the neanderthal beastmaster he’s seen as today. Society’s love for dogs, even beat-up pitbulls, is what has shaped the perception surrounding him. If we’re going to put dogs on the same hierarchical plain as humans, it would mean that the next time you run over your neighbor’s Labradoodle backing out of the driveway, you’ve got a manslaughter charge coming your way. Is that fair?
That eye rolling from you, dear reader, no doubt stems from my audacity at comparing the mutilation and eventual murder of pets to a hypothetical accident. And undoubtedly, most of you would stop just short of having dogs ranked on the same level as humans in court. Just as most of you would have Vick’s sentence stop just short of the death penalty for his actions. So what should it be? No money, no more football, must dedicate the remainder of his life to the care and keeping of animals? That sound about right?
Then what was his time in jail all about? Why are so many people unwilling to let him remove the scarlet letter? How can so many deride Vick for his cruelty while simultaneously refusing to keep their own cruelty in check? Either he’s paid his dues or he hasn’t. If he hasn’t, then your resentment should be leveled against the U.S. justice system, not Vick. And if you believe he’s paid his dues than that belief must necessarily be all-encompassing or it’s a lie to call it a belief in the first place. He’s done his time, paid his price and if there are teams that want to pay him a salary or corporations that want him to be the face of their brand then now, after two years, then they are his for the taking.
You don’t have to like it, but trying to convince others that it’s wrong is more of a blight against your moral compass than the society you’re living in.
Ask yourself if you believe Michael Vick – given the opportunity – would ever fight dogs again. If you believe that he wouldn’t, isn’t that result the purpose of paying a penance in the first place? Hasn’t the effect Vick’s last two years has had on him yielded the best results one could hope for?
Expecting additional restitution for a crime he’s already squared off the books speaks more to our inability to forgive than it does to Vick’s inability to reform.