Thursday, July 23, 2009

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talks with Michael Vick - is Vick back in pro football?

The NFL appears to be seriously considering letting Michael Vick back into the fold. It's such a strange idea. The whole debate over Vick has been such a strange idea. Cries of racism from people who claim that anyone who criticizes Vick is a sheltered middle-class suburbanite who doesn't 'get' the culture of dog-fighting. Yawns of 'it's just a dog' from people who think we should be more worried about the rapists, drunk drivers and killers who have skated through pro sports in the past. The serenely logical point out that Vick's sentence was mostly due to gambling, not to animal abuse. And some oddly specific people complain that Vick went to prison while Bush and Cheney are free.

None of which really gets to the heart of the matter. Dog-fighting is illegal in large part because it is blatant, violent animal cruelty. The gambling - ie, the money - makes it big-time, and gives enforcement the teeth so often lacking in other animal cruelty cases. But it would never be legal in our era, even if there was no money involved. It's just too vicious. Unlike other sports or activities involving animals, dog-fighting is by definition the maiming or killing of dogs. The activity doesn't exist unless dogs are being hurt and killed. Horse racing has taken some criticism in recent years for the deaths of horses - Eight Belles, Barbaro - but it does not exist expressly to create pain.

The things Vick directly participated in with his dogs and kennel, and the things he contributed to indirectly, were extremely cruel, were done over a long period of time, and were done when he was an intelligent adult with plentiful resources. The NFL should not take him back. And yes, it's unfair. He's a superb talent at the sport, and people seem to think sports should be pure. But they're not, because humans are not. Sport is unfair. Talented athletes blow their chances all the time. Vicks blew his. And because he blew his late, he still walks away with a lot of money and a lot of adulation from people who think he was wronged by a flawed system. Is it fair to compare a blown knee, a bad season, etc., with a felony? Is it fair to say that a man who's done his time should lose his profession? No. But it's still the right thing to do. Vick may be redeemed; he may be a new man. But how does that equal having a right to step back into an elite position of respect and financial gain? He's paid, with years of his life, for the negative effect his illegal actions had on the society; his return to the NFL would have a new negative effect, begging the question - what was the point?

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