August 18, 2009

The Vick Conundrum

So ... Michael Vick.

I wasn’t intending to ‘go there’ in this space—to me his is a straight social issue, and only tangentially Redskins-related in that Vick’s new team, the Philadelphia Eagles, play in the same division.

However, a friend of mine whose thoughts I value and respect deeply recently wrote a strongly-worded, passionate piece about Vick’s return to the NFL, and got my juices flowing a bit. Add to that the fact I am a Virginia Tech grad myself, and have followed Vick’s career since he showed up in Blacksburg a decade ago with fascination and natural partisan interest, and next thing I know ...

For the record, I do not claim original insight here, nor do I offer this as some soapbox social statement. I would just like to touch on an aspect of this entire situation that I haven’t seen given as much play as I think is warranted:

Everyone’s personal view of this entire incident is inextricably bound to and viewed through the lens of their own personal value system.

That's an obvious statement on a certain level that I know we all understand intellectually. I’m just not sure how many of the more passionate voices I’ve heard speak on the subject have really accounted for it or acknowledged its relevance.

Personally, I find dog fighting abhorrent. I ache for the animals, harbor righteous rage against the humans who perpetrate it, and feel deeply frustrated confusion at the reality that so many fellow human beings utterly lack the empathy gene.

I find the way women are treated in much of the world abhorrent. The thought process behind treating any fellow human being as chattel has always been and will always be incomprehensible to me.

I find it incomprehensible that children are abandoned, beaten, abused, exploited, ignored. I did so long before I had kids of my own; and today, as a father, it's an issue I cannot even think about without bringing knots to my gut and bile to my throat.

I feel these things, in large part, because I was raised in an environment where they were considered wrong.

But I also do things I know others find abhorrent. I eat meat. I don't subscribe to any of man's religions and am not shy about debating the matter with those who do. I don't care a whit about any else's sexual orientation.

I don't find those things abhorrent, in large part, because I was raised in an environment where they were considered normal.

Mike Vick was raised in an environment where dogfighting is viewed by many as perfectly normal. That is not to imply he had no choice but to find it normal ... but it is a factor; one it is both unfair and unrealistic to dismiss out of hand. I will never condone his actions, but will also not forget the context in which he made them when it comes to how I view who he is now, and what I believe our society should demand/expect from him for the rest of his life.

None of us will ever know what if anything has changed in Mike Vick's heart. It is possible he's a changed man today, and his experience will create in him the champion of and ultimate weapon against animal cruelty the world over. It is also possible he remains the exact same man he was before this whole sorry affair broke, and the only thing that's really changed is that he is and will be one hell of a lot more careful about what he shows in public.

The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in between. It almost always is.

Should he be allowed to make a living at the thing he does best? Of course he should. To suggest otherwise flies in the face of the legal system we live by—you pay your debt to society as the laws of the day dictate, then have the right to get on with your life.

Should the NFL have been forced, legally, morally or otherwise, into the role of social conscience or arbiter? I think not—not unless we're prepared to live in a society where some Solomonic regulatory agency has the right and/or duty to dictate to any business who it can and cannot hire based on whatever crimes they have already been punished for in the legal system.

Me, I don't want to live in that society. But that's a discussion for another day.

Bottom line ... I do not and will not pretend to know what is in Mike Vick's heart. I do think he should be able to play in the NFL. And I do think the Philadelphia Eagles would be totally justified demanding, in return for hiring him, that he use his celebrity to help bring the stark realities of dogfighting into the light. To hopefully have some small effect in someday bringing it, if not to an end, at least to its knees. But that decision should be theirs, not imposed on them from without.

There will always be people who take pleasure in blood sports, in activities that take advantage of those—human and otherwise—who cannot say no. We all know that. But "the rest of us,” even while admittedly superimposing our own value systems, also have the right (or duty, depending on your own values) to try to reduce their numbers.

I believe that for as long as his skills allow, Michael Vick can and should serve society—not to mention current and future generations of man’s best friend—in that regard, particularly given the stage and platform of the NFL.

Whether his heart is in it or not.


Anonymous said...

Today I received this from the HSUS and this is the only reason I will give MV a chance as actions speak louder than words.

Dear Friend,

On a chilly evening last fall, a raid on a dogfight in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood on the south side turned up more than 50 people, including a pregnant woman and a few juveniles, in a basement watching dogs fight a bloody battle.

This summer, young men and their pit bulls gather on hot evenings in that same neighborhood to compete much more constructively (watch the video). The owners learn positive training methods and new ways of thinking about their dogs. The pit bulls, some of whom start the classes wildly aggressive, learn to run an agility course and show off their new obedience skills. Participants shower their dogs with praise and treats and start to see their canine companions as friends instead of fighters.

The HSUS' End Dogfighting program makes the difference in Englewood and other troubled neighborhoods where dogfighting is all too common. People from the community spread the word about our "Pit Bull Training Team" and invite dogs and their owners to attend free classes.

The healthy competition in our classes has turned around many dangerous situations. Greg and his 95-pound bruiser Bolo struggled at first when Bolo tried to attack other dogs. Greg took Bolo out of the room sometimes because of his barking and lunging. Working with Bolo alongside more advanced dogs got him to settle down and make progress. Eventually, Bolo could sit calmly while other dogs wrestled in front of him -- unthinkable at the start of the session.

One famous face symbolized the dangers of dogfighting last week: quarterback Michael Vick. To a rapt young audience in Chicago, he described his downfall by dogfighting and urged them to care for animals, not fight them.

Vick also gave his first interview since prison on last night's edition of 60 Minutes. He says he has a new attitude toward animals and that he's committed to helping boys and young men in inner cities break away from the horrors of dogfighting. On the show, I explained that we need to tackle this larger problem, and that Vick might even be able to help with it. (See my blog for more of my thoughts.)

A few years ago, Michael Vick thought he was on top of the world, while in fact he teetered on the brink of losing everything. Our End Dogfighting program brings solutions to others who may not even know they need one.


Wayne Pacelle
President & CEO
The Humane Society of the United States

Home it helps you OM

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Thanks for posting that, Chris. And just out of curiosity ... you hope it helps me how?

Unknown said...

Finally...someone with a decent view of this whole situation. Everyone is so quick to dismiss the fact that this is a normal activity for some people in certain parts of the country. No one is saying it isn't despicable...but one can't ignore that fact. OM...well put.

Now, how can we get Vick to play well against our Skins, but always lose?


Skins fan and VT grad

Anonymous said...

OM....not quibbling with your sentiments....but the logic does lead to a disturbing moral relativism.....

Mark "Om" Steven said...

I was wondering when someone would open that door--I'm actually glad you did.

My response is that recognizing factual, non-ambiguous factors of an event---in this case, Vick's upbringing and the role they played in his decision to partipate in dogfighting activities---is not the same thing as excusing it. I did not and do not accept OR excuse it. I do however understand how his upbringing played a role in it.

As I said in the piece, I am not claiming some great original insight in saying that, merely calling attention to the fact I have seen very little mention or acknowledgment of it in the tens of thousands of passionate words I have heard and read about this whole sordid affair.

I think it warrants mention and inclusion in the dialogue.

Anonymous said... purpose isn't to pick a fight...but I have never really liked the "environment provides rationale/extenuating explanation" argument. Aside from the fcat that it is hard to prove - and doesn't explain everyone in similar circumstances doesn't make the same assumes that the moral actor can't think independently...throw that out and the whole system sinks.

anywho...honest piece.