Thursday, August 23, 2007

Now What?

Now that Michael Vick is preparing to plead guilty in Federal court to the gambling and dog-fighting charges the vultures are starting to circle. It never seems to fail whether you are on your way up or on your way down, everybody wants a piece of a great athlete. Those same people who are calling for his head have no trouble using this story to further their careers or to market something. Michael Vick is selling as much in disgrace as he did in triumph. He is being posterized as much as he is being demonized.

Let me state again for the record what those men did and what others like them continue to do is reprehensible. In my opinion, cruelty to animals is indefensible and maybe a symptom of other deeper issues. However I don’t understand why cases like this continue to divide us along racial lines. More than dividing us they become polarizing instances of racial injustice or athletic privilege. These cases share amazing similarities in that they involve black celebrities who are accused of some heinous crime that you would think we could all agree on. Yet as usual in America nothing is ever what it appears, nothing is ever cut and dry when it comes to race.

In cases like these there is rarely any middle ground that all reasonable people can gravitate to. You have the off with his head crowd or you have the it’s really not that bad crowd. What Michael Vick did was bad in most civilized societies, let’s be real. However is it worthy of the death penalty or a lifetime of banishment to the nearest leper colony? That depends on who you talk to; I for one think no and not because I take any less umbrage with what he did. In our society we accept that none of us are perfect and that we all make mistakes. Many of us believe that everyone has a potential to be rehabilitated and should be offered the opportunity. The problem I have is with the hypocrisy of those who cry for the death penalty, when asked who is without sin they obviously raised their hands.

But more than anything, people are angry with Vick because they understand that dogfighting is a gratuitous form of cruelty. This was a calculating, deliberate and sustained cruelty, perpetrated over a number of years. Sixty-six tortured and battered dogs were found on his property, and affidavits say he personally helped kill eight others. Lots of crimes are committed in a moment of passion, with one lapse in judgment or snap of the temper. This isn't one of them.

The crimes may have been committed against canines, but at issue is basic humanity. Commit those crimes against people, and the words we'd use for it are fascism, and genocide. Don't kid yourself: The people who are so angry at Vick are angry for all the right reasons.[1]

Michael Vick did not invent the sport of dogfighting. The problem is that those who find the practice cruel realize that it is continuing as they read this and so Michael Vick represents all those who have gotten away with it before him and all those who are getting away with it now. Their anger is not only towards what he did, but also the pent up anger and frustration of knowing it continues and that there are people who enjoy such cruelty. Michael Vick is the face of this cruel sport to many, but really he is just one man who for whatever reason found pleasure in this activity. I don’t believe in his mind it was a calculated plot to be a dog serial killer. We are not raised with the same understanding of animals or share the same beliefs in the rights of animals. For too many of us we assume that everyone was raised with the same values, beliefs, and experiences; so how could anyone do this? Well given your level of those three things they couldn’t, but we don’t all share those three things. The writer says, “If these crimes had been committed against humans,” they would have another name and if they were committed against roaches we wouldn’t even be here. I don’t understand why you would have to try to make this crime more despicable to escalate the anger quotient. I think we get the message.

On the other side you those who would justify any behavior based on racism, childhood, or their own economic incentives. Is the outrage unjustified and racially motivated? No, there are many people of all racial persuasions that find this to be cruelty to those unable to defend themselves. What shall we do then? Let him off with a warning or a slap on the wrist? The following are some comments from the head of the NAACP Atlanta chapter; this is why black leaders have no credibility.

"At this point, you're not looking at guilt or innocence," White said, referring to the possible harsher sentence Vick could have received had he taken his case to trial and been found guilty. "You're thinking, 'What I better do is cut my losses and take a plea.' But if he saw this as the best thing to do at this point for his future, then I think he made the correct choice."

White said he regretted that the plea deal will mean all the facts of the case might never be known.

"Some have said things to save their own necks," White said. "Michael Vick has received more negative press than if he had killed a human being."

White said he does not support dogfighting and that he considers it as bad as hunting.

"His crime is, it was a dog," White said.[2]

This is inaccurate and it completely ignores the facts we already know. Michael Vick attended, gambled, and killed dogs in a dogfighting enterprise he ran. In order for this process to reach a conclusion and for the rehabilitation to begin he has to acknowledge his role, if not, then there can be no healing. If he were in fact innocent he has the wherewithal to fight this, hell we’ve had guilty people fight and win. I’m sure if we checked the NAACP Atlanta chapter books there might be a large contribution from Mr. Vick.

So what’s next? That will depend on Michael Vick. He can use this to become a better person or he can use it to descend further into anger and cruelty. I pray that he will allow this experience to reshape him and help him to see the limits we all share. I don’t recommend prison for anyone, but I know of many people who have used it as a stepping stone to a better life. He is still a youngman and if he wants to continue his football career, I don’t think we should hinder that. So let’s take the rocks out of our pockets and give him an opportunity to learn from this.



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