Is Michael Vick sorry? Or sorry he was caught?

America is torn apart, and it’s not about health care reform, the wars overseas, the Yankees or the Red Sox. Our nation is entrenched in a hot debate over whether Michael Vick deserves a second chance.

Woefully inadequate: 60 Minutes recently did a segment on Michael Vick.

I watched Michael Vick’s press conference Friday and I saw his interview on “60 Minutes.” I believe in second chances. But I also believe that Michael Vick had plenty of chances to do the right thing, and in each case, he failed.

I realize that Vick grew up exposed to dog fighting. It was exciting, it was part of the culture. Even cool. So maybe it’s too much to expect that at some point the light would go on and he’d realize these choices are not only wrong, they’re horrifically cruel. But with each new fight, each additional act of abuse or torture or killing, he chose to proceed.

Vick had another “second chance” – a chance to do the right thing when he was indicted. But instead of coming clean and being honest about the decisions he made, like a coward he lied to the judge and denied any involvement.

Bad Newz… and a sliver of good news

Still, I was heartened by some of Vick’s statements in Sunday’s interview. He solemnly declared his commitment to work with the Humane Society of the United States, and to use his influence to prevent more cruelty than he’s inflicted. I’m eager to see his follow-through.

A few of his statements, however, left me frustrated.

“I was disgusted, you know, because of what I let happen to those animals,” he said. “I could’ve put a stop to it. I could’ve walked away from it. I could’ve shut the whole operation down.”

First, Vick needs to acknowledge the degree to which he participated in these crimes. He didn’t just stand by and “let it happen”; he was not a spectator nor even a passive participant. He actively engaged in electrocution, drowning, and beating. He performed barbaric, unspeakable acts. He needs to fully take ownership of these actions – for himself and for the public.

Similarly, it’s unacceptable to refer to his crimes as a “mistake” or “unnecessary” or “pointless,” as he did at his press conference. Buying the wrong size battery is a mistake. An electric shaver is unnecessary. Putting jellybeans in your gas tank is pointless. Premeditated torture and killing are not comparable, and labeling them a “mistake” just adds to the perception he doesn’t understand the gravity of his actions.

Who, exactly, dog fighting hurts

When James Brown asked him when he realized he’d truly done wrong, he responded, “The first day I walked into prison and they slammed that door, I knew the magnitude of the decisions that I made…” He goes on to say, “What I did, being away from my family, letting so many people down, letting myself down, not being out on the football field, being in a prison bed, in a prison bunk, writing letters home. That wasn’t my life. That wasn’t the way that things were supposed to be.”

These statements convince me this is a man who’s realized he’s done wrong; proof was that he’d suddenly lost everything – his freedom, his fortune, and for a while, even his family. But I’m not anywhere near convinced he understands why his acts were wrong. His remorse was about what he lost. Michael, the wrongness is not about your squandered endorsements or your months on a prison cot. Torturing and killing others is wrong.

Finally, I don’t want to hear Vick claim he loves animals any more than he wants to hear me say I’m a football fan. Admittedly, I couldn’t care less about the game. But my point is, you don’t have to be an animal lover to know that it’s not ok to harm them. Animals are not your thing, Michael. That’s fine – we all have our own passions, our own interests. But don’t lie to me about yours and then expect me to take your remorse seriously.

French Poodle fajitas

This morning I watched MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” where I was more infuriated by what the commentators were expressing than by anything Michael Vick has said in the last few days.

One commentator declared, “They’re just dogs.” As if a dog who’s been beaten senseless doesn’t feel pain. As if a dog who’s been ravaged beyond recognition in the fighting ring doesn’t feel complete terror each subsequent time he’s forced to go in and endure more hell. Are you saying such acts are not that bad because they’re committed against dogs? Could you stand to watch your pet experience intense prolonged suffering or die so violently?

Another guest said the reaction he got to his defense of Vick was as if he’d been caught eating French Poodle fajitas. You don’t get it, man. It’s about how you treat a sentient being when he’s alive–whether you allow him an existence free from incessant pain, hunger, and fear, and not what you do with the body once he’s dead. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating dogs for dinner. I’m just pointing out that years of physical and mental torture is indefensible.

Here at Dogtime, we’d like to know your reaction. Please feel free to add your comments.