Michael Vick has served his time and is therefore square with the law. Thus, he is entitled to reenter society, he has the right to be a free man and he deserves every nasty word thrust in his general direction. That should be good enough. As a matter of fact, most ex-cons get this chance working as Shoprite bagboys or punching train tickets for public transportation. Vick’s halfway house is one of the NFL’s charter franchises and the formerly blemish-free Philadelphia Eagles. Vick will begin his long struggle back into the working world with a contract that will pay him $1.6 million this coming year.
Historically a bad teammate, a bad fan-relations player and a bad human being, Vick is now the most controversial and burdensome second-string player in professional sports. I should make the point up front that I am not a dog person. I don’t even particularly care for dogs, which I generally find annoying, time-consuming and poor as conversationalists. That said, I think we should consider for just a moment the moral implications of this move from Michael Vick’s perspective.
So, you have a windowless black shed in your backyard which contains a blood spattered dog-fighting ring. You have a kennel containing roughly 60 deeply malnourished, stinking and wounded pit bulls. You have several mass graves on your property containing the remains of dogs. You personally euthanized these dogs and for reasons that may be left to our own individual psychiatric assessment, you found that it might be interesting and or fun to conduct these mercy-killings in a variety of ways which include shooting, drowning, electrocuting, hanging and body-slamming.
Now, let’s say that these are the surface details for an operation which you conducted across six years (at least) and from which you profited even when you earned a base salary that would allow you to buy El Salvador. In all that time, Michael Vick was not capable of gathering up the judgment to determine that this was wrong and possibly even sick. I have no doubt that 18 months in prison and the loss of $200 million in assets will cause a man some personal reflection, and maybe even reform. But frankly, I couldn’t give a shit. No amount of time would make me want to consort with an individual capable of these acts, much less root for his return to visibility, praise and a success reserved for the elite athletes of the world.
Of course, this is all very personal and factors not the least into the decisions made by the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles. They have no obligation to behave according to that which I deem ethical or unethical. But they are running a business and as such, must make decisions which weigh carefully the pros and cons of a move like this. Indeed, owner Jeffrey Lurie brilliantly feigned discomfort and moral outrage while simultaneously claiming that after heavy soul-searching, he found that the pros outnumbered the cons in bringing in Michael Vick. Either he’s a liar or the man who recently entered Forbes list of new billionaires sucks at math. Which do you think it is?
I had previously held that the NFL should have given Vick a lifetime ban if it regarded its own reputation seriously. But they didn’t. Therefore, it has been left to the discretion of a team willing to overlook the things he’s done either for reasons of strategic or financial advancement. I would simply have hoped that no NFL team would feel this imperative strongly enough to overlook Vick’s behavior. We’re not talking about a guy who made a mistake here. We’re talking about a guy who got caught doing something deeply premeditated, repeated and organized. And, while being given the rarified opportunity to make millions of dollars a year in salary and endorsements, just could not resist this underground business enterprise. He may have served his time, but it doesn’t mean he’s no longer a piece of shit.
I am furious that my team is now asking me to root for him, as are about half of Philadelphians. Of course, Philly Inquirer journalist Bob Ford probably said it best when he noted that at least 30% of Eagles fans would cheer for bin Laden if they thought he could win us a Superbowl. And on the point of Vick’s expected role on the team, the move is altogether ludicrous. Without getting into the stupidity of extending McNabb’s contract and wasting a draft pick on the unproven Kevin Kolb if you have that little confidence in either one, did the Eagles really invite the protest, controversy and media distraction so they could run the wildcat every game? Ethics aside, it is a strategically unnecessary move that carries with it the promise of media distraction, negative publicity, loss of sponsorship, protest and a radical character change in one of the decade’s most successful organizations.
This is not an issue about dogs or animal rights. This is about the NFL being among the most rarified stages for athletic competition and celebrity status. The NFL and its teams have a right to hold individuals accountable on their own terms, separate from what the law says. And I don’t think cultural relativism is really demanded in this case. This simply helps to excuse behavior which might be regarded as morally repulsive. Moreover, the NFL is not required to exercise this relativism as part of any labor agreement I know. Quite frankly, Vick’s reinstatement underscores the reality that Roger Goodell is a dickless suit.
That said, business is business. Therefore, I offer all comments on the subject from the position of being an Eagles fan rather than one standing in judgment of Vick. I certainly don’t blame Vick for wishing to return to the league. But I blame my team for weighing the pros and cons–practically, monetarily and ethically–and coming to this decision. Of the many things that the Eagles need, this was never on the list. Vick should have a job with any NFL organization that would hire him but I have little to no respect for said organization.
As of today, Michael Vick Eagles jerseys are flying off the shelves and fans are mounting their own moral position on the importance of forgiveness and second chances. This is to say that for all of its posturing and verbal manipulation, the Eagles have done nothing less than to create a platform and imperative for people to defend Vick, cheer his achievements and, whether you like it or not, to excuse and dismiss the gravity of his crimes. As Vick jerseys pop up all over Philadelphia, it is increasingly apparent that the Eagles have asked many of us to choose between our values and our football team. And for those who are inevitably bound to choose their football team, the Eagles have instigated a total withdrawal from moral consideration. This is a great deal of social damage that will not be undone by Vick’s token service to the Humane Society. And yet, any success that Vick achieves will be held in the highest regard, treated as a story of redemption, told tearfully by John Madden, sold to Disney and scored by John Williams as though Vick has returned to the NFL after beating testicular cancer and giving a kidney to his grandmother while serving his country in Vietnam.
And I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that we haven’t seen the last of Michael Vick the criminal scumbag. If history is any indication, second chances like this are a great way to intensify the delusions that you can get away with anything. I’ve never lived in a jail cell but I’ve also never made a million dollars. I wonder how quickly one erases the memory of the other and vice versa.
Vick deserves outrage for taking the opportunity once given to him and exploiting his considerable wealth and resource to engage in a cruel, inhumane, illegal and morally reprehensible criminal conspiracy. The whole ‘everybody deserves a second chance’ line is bullshit code for ‘we think this guy can still make some money for us.’ NFL teams are not required to exercise ethical judgment but I am.