Note: The original FOX SPORTS story on this suggested that Vick did not admit to killing dogs. The updated version notes that he did admit to it. This post has been slightly altered to reflect that. –ST
As we learn today about Michael Vick’s plea agreement, in which he pleads guilty to one count of “Conspiracy to Travel in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities and to Sponsor a Dog in an Animal Fighting Venture,” admitted to killing dogs, yet didn’t admit to gambling, I wanted to bring up a column by Jason Whitlock, who was a brave voice of reason and sanity during the Don Imus controversy. In his column on Michael Vick, Whitlock argues that the disgraced suspended Atlanta QB deserves a second chance:
I agree with the president of Atlanta’s NAACP. The NFL should welcome Michael Vick back to its league once he has finished serving jail time for his involvement in dog fighting.
“As a society, we should aid in (Vick’s) rehabilitation and welcome a new Michael Vick back into the community without a permanent loss of his career in football,” R.L. White said on Wednesday. “We further ask the NFL, Falcons and the sponsors not to permanently ban Mr. Vick from his ability to bring hours of enjoyment to fans all over this country.”
Again, I concur with Mr. White. Michael Vick and every other convicted felon deserve an opportunity to re-enter society and earn an honest living. Now that Vick has acknowledged his wrongdoing, offered an apology through his attorney and is prepared to accept his fate, we should treat him with compassion, and support his rehabilitation efforts.
I also hope that our modern-day civil-rights leaders stake out a consistent position on compassion. We can’t demand it for Michael Vick and deny it to those we don’t like, especially when it comes to high-profile public figures such as Don Imus.
You see, this is the problem when every misdeed or slip of the tongue by a broadcaster, celebrity, athlete is turned into a major political issue worthy of protest and calls for dismissal.
We have to put an end to the political game of “racial gotcha.” It’s backfiring on everybody. We no longer seek understanding. We seek vigilante justice. We want high-profile people to serve as examples of the kind of harsh punishment America is willing to dole out if you make a mistake. We think if Vick and Imus lose their jobs and are totally disgraced, their demise will make the world a more civil place.
I’m not so sure. I think we’re becoming more bitter. We look for chances to screw the “other” guy.
I think Whitlock has a point in that all too often when a public figure says something deemed as offensive, people all too often start screaming for the person to be ‘step down’ or ‘fired’ in order to make an example out of them when what people really need to do is respond to the merits (or lack thereof) of the offending remarks, and let the chips fall where they may accordingly. If the person proves to be too much of a distraction for the organization or company he or she works for, then the company has to make a decision as to whether or not it makes good business sense to let him or her stay on in their employ. I think a lot of it has to do with what profession you’re in, too. Needless to say, if you’re an aide to a Senator, and you make an ‘offensive’ remark about gay people, chances are, you are history. But if you’re, for example, a talk show host or a columnist, and you say something deemed ‘offensive,’ the grounds for dismissal are a lot murkier, because chances are you’re being paid for what you do, in part, because you are or at the very least can be controversial.
But in Vick’s case, we aren’t merely talking about something offensive he said. It’s something not only offensive, but criminal: what he’s admitted to. He tortured and killed dogs for money. He participated in a blood sport he knew treated dogs like a commodity to be bought, used, and disposed of in the most cruel of ways when they were no longer ‘useful.’ And the organization we’re talking about is the NFL, a high profile organization with high profile ‘star players’ who, whether they want to or not, represent it – are the face of it. Would the NFL want to risk its reputation on having one of its star players out on the field every weekend, with the thought in mind that everyone – young and old – watching him knows what he did when he thought no one was paying attention? Would it still be sensational that Vick ran for another touchdown when we all know what he was doing when the cameras weren’t rolling?
I think Vick’s finished in the NFL, and I won’t be shedding a tear if I turn out to be correct (and no, I’m not calling for him to be banned, but I won’t be upset one bit if the NFL decides to do so). Yes, Vick is going to be serving time for what he did, and as far as the legal end of things, justice will be served. But I suspect in the minds of millions of people watching him, his time served won’t be nearly enough to erase from their minds what he’s admitted to doing, and justice for all the dogs tortured and killed so Michael Vick could make some money may not be served in their eyes to him if he’s allowed to come back and pick up where he left off as though nothing happened.
I understand (and empathize to to a certain extent) Whitlock’s point about redemption. There are plenty of people out there who started their lives out on the wrong foot, had to serve time for small crimes like petty theft, but are now back on the right path, have gotten their acts together and are contributing positively to society. But at the same time, I don’t think he’s done a good job of distinguishing the differences between someone saying something offensive and someone committing not a petty crime but instead a heinous criminal act.
There are two types of justice in this country, especially for public figures: the legal kind, and the one found in the court of public opinion. If you’re a public figure who has either admitted to or is found guilty of a criminal act and serve your time, that’s justice as far as the legal system is concerned. But if what you’ve been found guilty of is thought to be particularly unsavory, despicable, and/or vicious, the court of public opinion is going to sentence you to a lifetime of condemnation.
I blogged last night about ‘choices‘ – life really is about the choices we make. If something feels wrong to you, it probably is. If your wrong choices are limited to choosing to go with the Santa Claus tie over the striped tie, you’re going to be ok. But if you make some really bad choices involving doing something illegal, eventually those choices are going to come back to bite you not just in a court of law, but in that court of public opinion, too, and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.
Related: Speaking of Vick, MSNBC is reporting that his case is ‘dividing’ leaders in the black community. I haven’t had a chance to read the piece yet, but you can by going here. Related to that, MSNBC was caught mistakenly quoting a parody Al Sharpton site. Greg Pollowitz at NRO’s Media Blog has the details.
Here are some blogospheric reactions to Vick’s plea deal.
Update: The AP is reporting that the NFL has suspended Vick indefinitely.