An Essay on Vick —From a Philadelphian

What is more important to the people of the city of Philadelphia, a Super bowl title or a stand against a systematic killing machine? Most people would like to think the latter; what I saw happening to my city this past football season contradicts this. My opinion on this matter stems from evidence and from the charges Michael Vick and his co-defendants admitted to. So, I ask the question: when one knows all the barbaric, torturous acts so many innocent dogs suffered for the sake of gambling, how can one still root for this person on the football field? I’m appealing not only to your sense of decency, but your common sense as well.

I feel compelled to write this because I live in Philadelphia, and have all my life. Not only that, I am a Philadelphia sports fan. I listen to sports radio every day. I’ve been constantly bombarded with the praise and excuses people make for Vick, at least when he’s playing good football. Just in case you were not aware, in July of 2007, Michael Vick, then quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, was indicted along with three other men on charges that they owned, operated, and funded an underground dog fighting ring on Vick’s property, a federal felony. The ring, known as “Bad Newz Kennels,” was discovered when Vick’s fifteen-acre property in Virginia was raided in April of 2007. Over seventy pit bull dogs were seized, most with signs of serious injury and neglect. Vick and his co-defendants, Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips, and Tony Taylor eventually pled guilty avoid additional jail time. Vick ended up with a twenty-three-month sentence in a federal prison. At their court hearings, it was learned that many dogs in Michael’s ring were shot, drowned, electrocuted, and hung when they were not “performing” up to their owners’ standards; it’s safe to assume this was done when certain dogs were not ripping apart the other dog in the ring fast enough, or at all.

There are many common basic “training” methods used in underground dog fighting rings. Puppies are often tied to fences and beaten until they learn to bite out in frustration. Small animals, such as kittens, are used as bait for the puppy to develop a taste for blood. Dogs are hung by their necks in trees so they learn to hold themselves up with their jaws. What this has to do with fighting, I do not know. Dogs who won’t fight are often drowned, hung, or electrocuted, as we learned happened to the dogs owned by Michael Vick. Often, these dogs die horribly painful and slow deaths from blood loss, shock, or infection hours or days after a fight. These are all basic practices that occur in dog fighting rings. Are you still with me? This is not some vague, intangible, obtuse social issue. This is the definition of torture, and again I ask, how can someone possibly support and root for this man simply because he can throw a football?

The main excuse I tend to hear from Eagles fans and Vick’s apologists is “Well, Vick served his time.” My response to this: “So what?” I’m supposed to support this man who committed unspeakable atrocities against so many dogs just because he served the jail time he deserved for committing this crime? He is not a martyr. He has not done nearly enough to show me that he is changed in any way. A couple of photo-op appearances at charitable organizations immediately following his release are not enough.

Michael Vick is a narcissist, and certainly does not seem to be humbled in any way by serving jail time. He callously announced that he wants to own a dog again and asked the question, “Why can’t my daughter have a dog?” Well, Michael, it’s because of you. It is because you oversaw the torture and slaughter of so many dogs that you cannot be trusted to care for one. But like a typical narcissist, he says, “Why can’t I…?” instead of admitting that it’s his fault. If you are a convicted criminal, you are not guaranteed anything after that. Vick also does not care to speak for the Humane Society anymore as he did following his release (when he did not have a team to play for), but people love him again and he has his contract. Michael Vick also bailed on some kids recently. He was billed as a mentor for the Urban Youth Racing School, an organization that mentors at-risk young boys. Vick was supposed to speak to these boys but canceled the appearance at the last minute. I guess now that he has his contract, repairing what went wrong in his life isn’t so important to him anymore.

And let’s not forget his television show, “The Michael Vick Project,” which aired following his release from prison. Taken right from the description of the show, “Against all odds, one man escaped and uplifted a family. But his humble beginnings led to a very tragic ending. But from darkness he saw the light. Blessed with a second chance, he must rise above to heal his family, and his legacy.” Sounds like the opening credits of a superhero movie of some kind, doesn’t it? How about healing the dogs you tortured or becoming an activist to end dog fighting that he grew up around? Vick shamelessly self-pitied himself on this show. You made your own choices, Mike; this fate just did not happen upon you. You are not a hero for serving jail time for a crime you were convicted of.

Now, look, I am not saying I do not want Michael Vick to better himself. It would be a fantastic turn if Michael Vick truly changed and turned his life around, but I am not counting on this because he has not done nearly enough to show that he is opposed to the senseless torture he once administered. What baffles me is when people make excuses for him, and say he has really “come a long way” simply because he is back in the NFL. Mike Vick grew up with a talent: football. A talent that was catered to at the expense of everything else if there is a chance to go professional in the NFL. If a young man shows a chance at going pro, everything else is sacrificed to propel his chances to achieve it. Despicable behavior is excused, and some (not all) athletes are passed through school no matter what kind of grades they get. This is certainly not true of all professional athletes; many are very intelligent and excelled at school and have never been convicted of a crime.

The other main argument is, “Well, dog fighting is a part of his culture. He grew up around it.” How does that make torture and slaughter excusable? The level of torture these dogs were put through transcends any “cultural” or “environmental” argument that can be made. You have to be a pretty callous, sick individual to hold a dog underwater just to see it drown, to electrocute it and watch it suffer a slow death, to force two dogs to tear each other apart and literally fight until the death. Do not brush this off as a “cultural norm.” This excuse is a cop-out. If a child grows up in a home where his father abuses his mother for years, the child has an increased chance of committing the same abuse against his own wife. Do we make excuses for this man? Do we say, “Well, it’s all he knows, now let’s give him a multi-million dollar contract because he can throw a football.” We would not be so quick to excuse this violent behavior. Why must people make the same excuse for Vick’s brutality? We should never excuse such torture simply because someone grew up around it his whole life.

Like I said, I’m a sports fan. I get it. When someone for your team is playing well, you want to root for him. However, we must not sacrifice the dignity and safety of so many animals because someone is a good athlete. Football is everything to some people, especially in Philadelphia. People are so quick to say that Michael Vick is “redeemed.” What is the justification for this? Just because someone is playing good football, please, do not equate this to being redeemed from dog torture. Again, I’m appealing to your common sense. Take a look at what a dog that has been in a dog fight looks like. They are torn apart and bloodied. So I again pose the question: how can football possibly be more important than taking a stand against a person so fundamentally callous and twisted? What Michael Vick did was not a rare occurrence. Dog fights happen all the time in this country. It’s a vicious “sport” slaughtering thousands of dogs. When we are so quick to forget the atrocities Michael Vick committed simply because he can play football, what does that say about us as a society? Sadly, it seems more people are sickened by their home team’s Super Bowl loss than by thousands of slaughtered dogs.

—Michele Neri

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