I can’t prove Michael Vick has a dog. But it’s either that, or someone at his home has developed an unlikely snack habit. Thursday evening, Vick posted a photo to his twitter account showing an open box of Milkbones on the table, and in the eyes of the law, it’s all good. As of early summer, Vick’s probationary period is over, and he may legally own a dog.
Michael Vick has a ton of fans. Plenty of people say he paid for his crime, believe in his redemption, and feel he deserves a second chance. And many animal welfare activists — even some Pit Bull advocates — agree. They say that Vick is sending a strong anti-dog fighting message to young people, a message that only resonates coming from him.
According to Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States (which has partnered with Vick on anti-dog fighting campaign):
“Ostracizing Michael Vick won’t save one dog. But working with him in underserved communities will ― by opening up the minds and hearts of young people. We have seen the impact his words are having…”
I don’t agree.
If Vick was genuinely remorseful and truly cared about ending animal cruelty, Pacelle’s approach might work. But the star quarterback, for the most part, steers clear of talking about the pain and agony he directly caused. Instead, he tells young people about his own suffering: “I had all the fame and fortune; I thought I was unstoppable,” he said in a typical talk to students. “I lost my freedom, I lost my money, I lost my family.”
The message was not “don’t participate in dog fighting because it’s horrific” but “don’t get caught dog fighting because you’ll go to jail.” And as his endorsement contracts re-emerge and his life of luxury resumes, the real message Vick sends is this: When you’re a star, even if you do something heinous, you can return to your former glory. Maybe even exceed it.
It’s impossible to truly measure the impact of Vick’s occasional speeches, but the numbers show dog fighting cases are actually on the rise in urban areas like Philadelphia, where Vick plays. No one can say for sure whether that means the activity really is increasing, or just that more cases are being reported and investigated. But even if the latter is true, Vick no more deserves credit for putting dog fighting on the radar than Hitler does for opening our eyes to genocide.
In fact I don’t see much difference between Vick and another animal abuser whose story we recently covered. Several years ago, a man named Philip Rinn chained a dog to his car and then intentionally drove away, intending to kill her. Rinn eventually managed to convince a judge he had changed, that he would never abuse an animal again, and months later, legally acquired another dog. This one, he beat upside the head with a wooden stick.
People who are capable of such horrific sadism do not change overnight — or miraculously after a prison stint. Change of that magnitude doesn’t happen without serious therapy, introspection, and remorse. If Vick has received any counseling to deal with the demons that led him to torture animals, I haven’t heard about it.
In fact, last year Vick told GQ Magazine:
“It’s almost as if everyone wanted to hate me. But what have I done to anybody? It was something that happened, and it was people trying to make some money.”
This doesn’t sound like a changed man, or even someone willing to take responsibility for his actions. This sounds like someone who doesn’t really get what the big deal is. Someone who doesn’t comprehend — or maybe just doesn’t care — that animals feel.
Am I saying there’s no way Vick can help create a solution? No — I don’t know whether he can or can’t. I’m saying what he’s done so far has produced little effect, and it’s not surprising, considering the minimal effort he seems to put in. For the record, I absolutely would welcome a true attempt on his part. But I still don’t think it earns him the right to a dog. He sacrificed that right the very first time he harmed an animal. And he cemented his fate with each act of violence. There are some things for which there should be no second chances.
Instead, I think the message we need to send to our youth is that compassion wins you fans, admiration, and pretty cheerleaders. That taking responsibility for your actions, and living with the consequences, makes you a man. That championing the underdog — not bullying him — suggests true strength.
We have enabled Michael Vick to become a millionaire again, a paid athlete, a book writer, and a businessman. I’m not suggesting we take away those things. But I don’t think we owe him any more, including hero status.
Or the privilege of having a dog.