What are NFL fans to do about Michael Vick? As he continues to light up scoreboards, dominate stat sheets and threaten to make the Philadelphia Eagles a legitimate contender in the NFC, do we enjoy his incredible athleticism and cheer him on? Decry his despicable past and object to his presence on the field? Or sit back quietly and pretend the dilemma doesn't exist while doing our best to ignore him?
Complaining about his past and suggesting he should be denied the chance to compete and make a living in pro football is an indefensible position.
Baltimore's Donté Stallworth drove drunk, killed a man, spent 24 days in jail and a year suspended from the NFL and will play again as soon as his injured foot allows. The Bengals' Adam Jones has a rap sheet as long as your arm, and what you won't find on it is the shooting he was involved in outside a Las Vegas strip club in which a man was left paralyzed for life. Nevertheless, after serving several suspensions from the NFL, Jones is playing in Cincinnati today. And perhaps most disconcertingly, there is Ravens LB Ray Lewis, who after being charged with the brutal murders of two men in Atlanta several hours after the Rams beat the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of obstruction of justice. The murders remain unsolved to this day, and Lewis is one of the most heavily marketed personalities in the NFL and revered by many as a pillar of the community in Baltimore. Disgusting to many, but true nonetheless.
As I have written here before, you won't find a more passionate lover of dogs than me, and to ignore Vick's heinous canine crimes is impossible. But like his aforementioned peers, Vick had his day in court, served his time and has been deemed worthy of his chance to resume his place in society. In fact, it is worth noting that the 19 months Vick served in a federal prison is a dramatically greater punishment for the maiming of dogs than Stallworth, Jones or Lewis ever paid for their alleged involvement in the maiming of humans. One of the bedrocks of our humanity is that we give people second chances, and Vick is entitled to his.
With complaining about his new life in Philly off the table, should we cheer him on, or do our best to ignore him? The answer lies in what he does off the field, not on it.
Some good has already come from Vick's horrific acts. Of the 51 pit bulls seized from Vick's property in July of 2007, 47 are alive today, and most have been rehabilitated and adopted. Prior to the Vick case, that would have been thought impossible, and the dogs would have been euthanized. But all of the credit for that goes to the judge who ordered Vick to put aside $1 million to care for the dogs and explore the possibility of rehabilitation. What should be the biggest question on our minds is: What is Vick doing today to battle and eliminate the kind of cruelty to animals he once practiced?
I know the Eagles have donated roughly $500,000 to various causes to combat animal abuse, and Vick has given as many as eight talks in urban areas aimed at educating youth to the horrors of dogfighting in cooperation with the Humane Society of America. But when Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle announced in May of 2009 they'd be working with Vick, he also said, "I've sat with him and I'm not yet sure what's in his heart." That was shortly after the American Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animals had announced it wouldn't work with Vick because of its intimate knowledge of the horror of his crimes.
Vick has flirted with several violations of the terms of his parole and probation, and after spending significant time on it recently, I've been unable to find any detailed information on anything Vick is doing in the community today to combat animal abuse. I believe we should be willing to give Vick the benefit of the doubt as soon as he makes a much greater effort to show us all what exactly he's doing and is prepared to do to repent for his crimes.
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