Michael Vick has been invited by Philadelphia’s Camelot schools to deliver the commencement speech to their graduating seniors. Since columnists are predicting that cynics like me will find fault with his remarks no matter what he says, I’m offering Vick the chance to garner my undiluted praise. All he has to do is stick to this script on graduation night:
The Commencement Speech I Hope Michael Vick Will Deliver
My name is Michael Vick and I’ve done some terrible, horrific things. They weren’t “mistakes” or “misjudgments” as I used to call them — they were barbaric acts of cruelty. And up until today, I have not adequately come to terms with the unimaginable pain and suffering I’ve caused. From here on out, my mission is to face my demons, admit my crimes, and do everything I can to ensure that no animal suffers the fates I served my Pit Bulls. When I’ve spent a significant amount of time working to end dog fighting and my actions show they’ve made a real difference, that’s when I’ll have truly earned the honor of being your commencement speaker.
For years I’ve been saying that dog fighting was part of my upbringing, that at the time I didn’t know it was wrong. Well of course I knew it was wrong — why else would I have denied and lied about it once I was discovered? I realize now how pitifully cowardly that was. I couldn’t admit the depravity of my actions then because that would’ve ensured paying the consequences. But I admit them now. My cruelty was monstrous. For those of you here tonight about to embark on adulthood, don’t allow the environment you’ve always been surrounded by dictate your sense of right and wrong. Don’t ignore that voice in your head that asks “Can this really be ok?”.
And while I’m riding the confession train, allow me to come clean on this: Up until now, my partnership with HSUS, including my speaking engagements, has been largely nominal in nature. My goal was to rehabilitate my image so that I could land endorsements and continue my career. More than eliminating dog fighting, I wanted my fame, fortune, and adoration back. I wanted to be seen as doing the right thing, and I wanted people to believe I’d learned my lesson.
But what I now realize is that it’s not about the lessons I’ve learned or the growth I’m allegedly seeking. Bottom line, this is not a story about Michael Vick and second chances. This is a story about the importance of compassion when it comes to those who have no voice.
We can pretend the message here is that one can turn one’s life around after making terrible and irreversible decisions. But let’s be honest, for the average American — 99.9% of you sitting here today — the acts I committed would not be readily forgiven if the perpetrator was a mechanic or a retailer or a teacher. I have tremendous athletic ability, and while it may not be fair, that talent has bought me a rare, perhaps even undeserved, second chance. It is not the norm. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting you need to be perfect. Rather, I’m insisting you must not be cruel. That’s the real message.
It’s taken me longer than it should have to understand that. In fact just the other day I said I wouldn’t change a thing about my past. God, how incredibly pompous and insensitive that was. As if my reluctant realizations could make up for the torture those animals lived through — or died for. As if it all could possibly be worth their years chained to cement blocks, enduring untreated broken limbs, severed ears, gaping flesh wounds, rape. Unquestionably if I could, I would go back to choose a different path. I would never have let such suffering occur, and I would’ve used my influence to expose and abolish dog fighting and cruelty wherever I saw it.
So from here on out, settle for nothing less than genuine remorse and explicit action. Simply the absence of atrocious behavior is not enough. Demand I show commitment to this cause, prove that I understand the gravity of the pain I’ve inflicted. And believe that my first true efforts start tonight, that my commitment will come above playing football and image-makeover attempts and partying. Know that I know the psychological makeup of someone capable of such actions is bigger than anything I can overcome on my own —and so I’ve decided to undergo serious and intensive therapy to understand what makes a human commit such inhumane acts. With this insight, I hope to deter others.
That means, I can no longer hide behind a PR team and carefully choreographed public image campaign. I will no longer avoid confrontation with the owners of my former dogs and accept awards or accolades from those who don’t care about compassion. I will not duck into the protective safeguard of my entourage, and I will comment when asked for comment. I will meet with anyone who wants to hear my apology, and I will pay for the medical care of each of my former dogs for the rest of their lives. It’s the very least a man can do.
As a good faith effort here tonight, I’ve bought each of you a copy of Jim Gorant’s “The Lost Dogs.” Theirs is the true story of redemption. The dogs’ achievements — in spite of so many obstacles — are so much are much more inspiring than a story of a guy who was handed everything, squandered it, and handed it all back again.
Thank you and good luck.