What Michael Vick has not earned

Dear Mr. Igwe,

I respect your decision to ask Michael Vick to speak to your group of young people. I understand your argument, and I’m convinced your actions are well-intended. But allow me to make a case for why Vick has not yet earned his right to guide the youth of today, and why another athlete would have been a better choice.

You say:

Whether we turn on a TV or radio, go to the sites we visit online or note the type of people we spend most of our free time with, we often find ourselves sympathizing, and empathizing, more with people who have come from backgrounds similar to our own.

No doubt, that is true. So why not choose a role model who rose from similarly adverse circumstances but did not have to commit crimes or engage in acts of unspeakable cruelty before finding fame in the NFL? Why not invite LaDainian Tomlinson? He survived an incredibly difficult childhood, and instead of torturing and murdering others, he goes out of his way to do the right thing. He makes selfless and humane choices at every turn.

Or Jarrod Cooper, who spends hours each week caring for homeless animals. It’s not for publicity – there are no cameras around when Cooper does his volunteer work. He does it because that’s the kind of man he is, not the image of a man he wants to project.

Maybe your organization would do even better to pick a speaker who actually did ruin his life, thanks to bad choices and inhuman behavior. In the end, how much did Vick really lose? Nothing he didn’t immediately gain back. And what kind of lesson is that?

You say:

We must examine what kind of society we understand ourselves to be and recognize that Vick has served his time and paid his debt to society.

Yes, and if we understand ourselves to be a forgiving society, we must also measure our worth by the way we treat those without voices and without rights.

As for paying his debt, Vick never served time for the personal torture he wrought against his dogs. He did 22 months for bankrolling a gambling ring. In the eyes of the U.S. court system, and to many Americans, that equals justice. I disagree. Vick was never punished for his cruelty, but I have no choice but to accept the outcome. I don’t have to accept, however, scripted apologies or PR stunts. I can demand sincerity before I begin to forgive.

You say:

It does society no good to exile Michael Vick. Rather, we should uplift him as a symbol of what is possible when someone chooses the “better angels” of their nature.

I agree that exiling Vick is not particularly worthwhile. I’m not suggesting we make him a pariah or devote our energy to vilifying him. What I am suggesting is that we wait to accept Vick – to hail him as a changed man and a person worthy of our respect – until he acts of his own volition with genuine compassion and true understanding. That is, when he acknowledges his role in his crimes. When he sees their innate wrongness – not because he had to go to prison, but because sadistic torture is evil. When Michael Vick calls you, Mr. Igwe, to ask if he can speak.

Vick hasn’t chosen anything. He appears when he’s asked to. He alludes to his actions without taking acknowledging how disturbing they are. But he is not voluntarily giving his money or time to animal causes. He’s never contacted Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (where many of his victims are now being rehabilitated) to see how they’re doing. He doesn’t care about animals; he cares about football. And I have no beef with that – Vick is free to feel whatever he feels. But let’s not pretend his heart is someplace it isn’t. And let’s not honor that nor allow our children to believe that is acceptable.


Leslie Smith

Senior Editor, Dogtime

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