“He paid for his mistakes, let the man redeem himself.”
--Prevailing attitude of many fans, media members, and players concerning Michael Vick’s return to the NFL.
I see the world through my own lens. When it comes to judging another human being, I do not take legality into consideration. It matters not to me what the courts say about someone. I believe in paying your debt to society and being punished for your wrongs. However, when I am personally passing judgment on someone, I look way beyond what a judge or jury has to say.
In Michael Vick’s case, I agree that his debt to society has been paid. He did serious jail time. He wasn’t in a cushy minimum-security facility nor was he coddled by the system. He did actual, hard time. It cost him a major chunk of his promising career and millions upon millions of dollars. I do believe that he has paid his dues from a legal and societal aspect.
But again, when it comes to judging another man, legality means nothing to me.
Let’s examine the quote at the top of the page and focus on the word “mistakes.”
To me, a “mistake” is something that can happen to an otherwise good person. Cheating on a test is a mistake. Getting in a bar fight is a mistake. Experimenting with drugs is a mistake.
Torturing an animal? That goes beyond a mistake. That is a glimpse into someone’s true character.
Many people bemoan the fact that Donte Stallworth is probably going to pay a smaller price than Vick. For those that don’t know, Stallworth killed a pedestrian earlier this year while driving intoxicated. He spent less than a month in jail and is currently under suspension by the NFL. Many people don’t understand why Vick is so vilified for what he did while Stallworth seems to receive more sympathy.
It’s really simple: While I think Stallworth’s legal punishment was entirely too lenient; from a personal or moral standpoint, I can see how someone can make that mistake. His actions were not premeditated. His goal that evening wasn’t to kill someone. He had too much to drink and got behind the wheel. I understand how that can happen to an otherwise good person. That is a mistake. It’s a terrible mistake that had tremendous consequences, but it was a mistake nonetheless.
Electrocuting a dog is not a mistake. Slamming a dog to the pavement over and over until it dies is not a mistake. Stringing a dog up on a rope and hanging it is not a mistake. These are premeditated acts of cruelty. I don’t think that otherwise good people can get “caught up” in this kind of behavior. If you are capable of engaging in these activities, then you are the kind of person that I can never understand. The kind of person for whom I have no empathy.
Of course, there is also the “societal” defense for Vick. I’ve heard several times that Vick grew up in rough circumstances where dog fighting was a common activity and part of the local “culture.” While the entire notion is far-fetched, it again does not explain the cruelty and violence. Had Vick simply attended dog fights or owned a few fighting dogs, I might be more prone to accept this “excuse.” But Vick was not an occasional spectator—he was at the center of a ring. He knew everything about the operation and took part in the torture and violence. He knew all about the “rape stands.” And by virtue of the lengths they went to in order to stay out of sight (buildings were all in a wooded area and painted black), he knew it was wrong.
I can see how a kid from a rough neighborhood or a broken home can get caught up in a gang. I can see how that kid can make some bad mistakes and land himself in jail. But I do not believe there is any societal or psychological excuse (aside from abject insanity) that can explain what Vick did.
It’s very easy to say you are sorry once you’ve been caught. But Vick showed no signs of curtailing his operation prior to the authorities busting his property. It sounds as if Vick was guilty of some extremely bad associations, and that many of his longtime “friends” threw him under the bus. Vick certainly wasn’t the only person running the show—and may not have even been the main person running the show, but he’s certainly paid the biggest price. Still, I have no sympathy for the man.
As a die-hard fan of the Washington Redskins, I have feared for months that they might be interested in adding Vick to the roster. I usually don’t get into to judging players’ personal lives—I’m a fan of the team and the off field actions of individuals usually does not concern me. But Vick’s case is different. His actions were so vile and so cruel, that I do not believe I’d be able to put my personal feelings toward him aside and root for him to help my team.
Vick’s destination is still unknown, although it does not appear as if the Redskins are interested. This comes as a great relief to me.
In the end, this has nothing to do with the rights of humans versus the rights of animals. This has nothing to do with paying your debt to society. This has nothing to do with NFL suspensions or whether or not Vick should be allowed to play again. This has everything to do with making a bottom line moral judgment on another man.
From where I sit, I lump Vick with pedophiles and rapists on the moral scale. Not because of the seriousness of the crimes or the effect they have on their victims, but because of what the perpetrators are capable of doing to another living being. If you have it in you to do that to another living creature, I’m not sure true “reform” is possible.
The one thing I do not know is what’s in Michael Vick’s head and heart. I have no way of knowing whether or not he is truly sorry what he’s done, or simply sorry he got caught. I have no way of knowing whether or not he’s truly been able to look inside himself and exorcise his demons. And because I’ll never know the answer to those questions, I’ll have to leave the final judgment up to an authority much larger than myself. That is when Vick will find out for certain the magnitude of his “mistakes.”