New Michael Vick book, clothes: is redemption for real?

Michael Vick

If you’re a Michael Vick fan and are impressed with the steps he’s taken toward redemption, you’re in luck. You’ve got two exciting new options by which to help keep him on the path to financial — and public relations — success.

Last week Vick announced the launch of V7, an athleticwear line to be sold in the East Coast sporting goods chain, Modell’s. A portion of the profits will go to the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia (neither the exact percentage to be donated, nor how much cash Vick will make on the venture, has been specified).

And then Tuesday he appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan and on NBC’s Today show to plug his new autobiography, Finally Free (again, an unspecified portion of the proceeds will go to charity… and to Vick). When Matt Lauer asked him about his role as an advocate for animals, Vick said — perhaps even sincerely — that he wanted to help children avoid the ruin he suffered. (Interestingly, he made no mention of creating a better life for dogs.)

Certainly, encouraging kids to make choices that will keep them out of prison is nothing to criticize. But that’s not animal advocacy. Nor is giving a short speech here and there that includes a few remarks about the “pointlessness” of dog fighting. Advocacy means you truly believe in the cause. You want cruelty to end because it’s wrong, not because you go to jail for it.

Ok, some point out. He’s using his fame for positive influence — do the details really matter?

Yes, they do. A lot. No kid wants to go to prison. Reminding them that they’ll end up there for doing something illegal is one message. Explaining — and believing — that cruelty doesn’t make you a man, that animals are sentient beings and that they feel as much as humans do, is a wholly different message. We need humane education, not just an addition to the list of acts you can get in trouble for.

Vick went on to tell Lauer that he believes, through his partnership with HSUS, that he’s helped more dogs than he’s harmed. I don’t know how it’s even possible to measure that, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how redemption works. It’s not like your work is done if (or when) the scales tip away from torturing animals and toward public speaking engagements.

Granted, Michael Vick cannot be expected to single-handedly stamp out dog fighting. (Not because it’s not his responsibility — quite the opposite: I believe he’s earned a lifelong duty to work for justice on behalf of the animals he maimed and killed.) He simply doesn’t have the genuine desire to make it happen. And you can’t fault a man for not being passionate about a particular cause. But you can fault him for pretending he cares when what he really wants is a restored reputation.

HSUS defends their decision to work with Vick. They insist his street cred allows him to reach at-risk youth in the same way former drug addicts can persuade people to take a different path. Again, such progress is hard, if not impossible, to measure. The fact is, dog fighting is still rampant — even among kids — and new rings are discovered and busted regularly. Animal cruelty is still very much an epidemic.

Meanwhile, Vick’s scripted interviews and ghostwritten memoirs will continue to be overshadowed by his much more telling off-the-cuff remarks and actions. He need not be an animal advocate to win the hearts of football fans. Pretending he is so, however, won’t win him forgiveness or respect from those caring for the dogs he brutalized.

I can already hear the dissenting opinions: “Let the man live his life.” “Move on.” “Stop being a hater.” Yes, the man is legally entitled to live his life. But if you’re writing a book or doing televised interviews (or hawking sportswear), that’s inviting conversation and commentary. Let the discussion continue.