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Worldwide Ace » Forgive and Remember

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Forgive and Remember

6 October, 2010 (11:34) | Sports

Michael Vick lays on the field after being sandwiched by two opponents. He did not return to the game.

“Look, either he’s rehabilitated, or, as Bill Simmons said, he’s pulling one of the greatest snow jobs of all time.”

“You’re walking a fine line there,” he said through clenched teeth. He kept his eyes forward, not deigning to look at me as he tensed with distaste.

Politics and religion have nothing on Michael Vick. One mention of his name brings opinions from everyone I know, whether they lean toward forgiveness of damnation.

In April 2007, a search of the young Atlanta Falcons quarterback’s residence revealed evidence of a dog fighting ring called Bad Newz Kennels financed by Vick and run by several of his close friends. By the end of August, Vick and the three others plead guilty to various charges relating to racketeering, gambling, and animal cruelty. Though Vick never admitted any involvement during the investigation other than financing the operation and attending some of the fights, a questionable lie detector result and positive drug test for marijuana while out on bail, as well as evidence of excessive brutality to the dogs themselves, led judge Henry E. Hudson to grant a sentence greater than recommended. Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison, of which he served 18 in prison followed by two under house arrest before being released on parole.

Vick’s contrition since the scandal is far from perfect. He’s admitted to personally killing dogs and spoken at length in public about the operation. He was featured in a 10-part series on BET called “The Michael Vick Project” chronicling the dog fighting ring, his youth in the town of Newport News, and his attempts to turn his life around. Critics of the series claimed Vick didn’t admit enough, often leaving some of the more heinous explanations to friends and family members. After the first episode, Washington Post writer Hank Steuver wrote:

there’s too much about redemption and closure and not enough about the lingering biggies: poverty, race, education and the social pressures involved when a black man comes up from nothing, finds astounding professional success and financial rewards, and must now support an extended family who will always come to him for help.[1]

While there’s no question that Vick’s acts were heinous, there remains disagreement on whether his punishment was apt and whether his redemption is possible.

Last season, Michael Vick returned to the NFL as a backup for the Philadelphia Eagles. After starting quarterback Donovan McNabb was traded during the offseason, Vick moved up from third string to second string. Kolb, who was injured in the second week of the season, ceded his position as starter after two explosive performances from the controversial Vick.

This past weekend, Vick was injured during a game, sandwiched between two opposing players as he ran for the goal line. The Eagles report the injury is to his rib cartilage and he’s not expected to play this week.

Sunday is football day for me, until ski season starts. I’m deeply interested in Sabermetrics and statistical analysis in sports and have played fantasy sports for almost a decade now. Not all my friends feel the same way about sports, so I’m often criticized or dismissed for eschewing being social for a day of football or baseball. To mitigate this, I agreed to have a couple friends over for a board game while football played in the background.

When Michael Vick got injured, I cringed.

“That’s too bad,” I commented, not expecting anyone to care.

“What is?” asked Jess.

“Vick got really creamed there.”

“He deserves it.”


“He tortured dogs.”

“He never admitted doing anything personally, just financing the dog fights. Besides, he’s served his two years and deserves a second chance.”

SIDE NOTE: Firstly, I was wrong on that point. During the investigation he never admitted it, but he has since. Secondly, Jess’s mother is a renowned dog trainer in their little town in the mountains. In addition to their dogs, she often takes on those of friends and neighbors. I don’t know if she charges for it or simply does it out of love, but it’s clear the connection she had with them. Jess has grown up with dogs and they’ve had an important impact on his life. This likely flavors Jess’s distaste for Vick.

Jess pulled out his cell phone, ignoring the game we were playing and began searching for evidence of Vick’s guilt. I watched the screen with interest to see whether Vick would return to the game. “Aha! He served 19 months,” Jess chimed in.

“Look, either he’s rehabilitated, or, as Bill Simmons said, he’s pulling one of the greatest snow jobs of all time.”

“You’re walking a fine line there,” he replied.

One of my philosophies is to try to forgive whenever possible. People make mistakes. I know I have and continue to do so. In a perfect application of the golden rule, if I want to be given another chance after screwing up, I need to be willing to give them as well. Things will never be as they once were, but with a few concessions they can come close to normal.

SIDE NOTE: I also have a policy of no second chances, as some of you have heard (and I’m noting here simply for clarification). It’s only applicable to relationships, as a relationship that’s fallen apart once will more than likely fall apart again for the same reason. Giving no second chances doesn’t mean not forgiving or not treating people amicably if the break is bad, but it means remembering what went wrong and being honest about either party changing.

Vick, in my opinion, has earned forgiveness. His lawyers argued that dog fighting is part of the culture and that Vick really didn’t know better, and while it’s not the strongest argument, they have a point. The society we live in has its flaws. Each corner has its quirks. As Dany Sigwalt wrote in the excellent article “A Vegan’s Perspective on Dogfighting and Michael Vick“:

We live in a world where 10 billion land animals are reared and murdered for consumption in the US alone to support an unsustainable lifestyle that harms everyone involved… Vick was raised in an environment where he was not taught that it is a moral “wrong” to breed and train dogs to exist for the sole purpose of fighting them…

While it’s true Vick’s upbringing is lamentable, it’s as important to key into his response since his release. Vick has spoken to kids about his mistakes and worked to improve his image. As Bill Simmons argued his his recent article “Michael Vick’s Redemption,” Vick has a chance to be an outspoken figure against dog fighting. Sigwalt also wrote, “the Humane Society of the United States will have free reign over Michael Vick’s image to push their agenda. I’m really interested to see how they use his image to appeal to young men of color to stop dog fighting, but have little faith that it will make a dent in the number of dog fighting circles in the country.”

Vick’s misdeeds will never be forgotten and may well end up his greatest legacy, but to deny him a chance to make up for them may end up the public’s greatest folly. I, for one, would at least like to give the guy a chance.