Michael Vick wins award for courage

Courageous Hector

I wasn’t going to write another word about Michael Vick this year. But it was announced today that Vick is receiving the Ed Block Award for Courage, and so I have no choice but to speak out.

Vick was selected by his teammates for the award which “goes annually to the player who exemplifies commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.” I can’t help but wonder what exactly courage looks like to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Is it accepting a million dollar contract to throw a football for a few minutes each week in order to return to a lifestyle of privilege and indulgence? Or maybe it’s a handful of PR-mandated appearances telling school children that they shouldn’t be pressured into doing “bad things,” as Vick claims he was.

Several weeks ago my father asked me what, if anything, Vick could do in order for me to forgive him – or even believe he was a changed man. Admittedly, it would take a lot. But Vick could start by saying something like this:

Thank you, but I don’t deserve this award. For years I acted as a bully – which is just another word for coward. I inflicted an unspeakable amount of pain and suffering on those who had no voice, no choice, and no way out. I will spend the rest of my life attempting to prevent anyone else from doing the same, and while that doesn’t necessarily take courage, at least it takes resolve. I hope that my actions in this endeavor become so exhaustive that people will one day call it courageous. Until then, I have a lot of work to do.

But instead, Vick reaffirmed that he’s the right candidate for such an honor. He highlighted his accomplishments and reminded people of his unique and terrible “suffering”:

“I’ve overcome a lot, more than probably one single individual can handle or bear,” Vick said. “You ask certain people to walk through my shoes, they probably couldn’t do… endure what I’ve been through…”

He went on to say: “You have to be strong, believe in yourself, be optimistic. That’s what I’ve been able to do. That’s what I display.”

Michael Vick, let’s talk about just what constitutes more than “one single individual can handle or bear.” Is having your skull slammed against cement over and over again too much to bear? Is being hanged or drowned or electrocuted too much to bear? Because you’re right – those individuals were not, ultimately, able to bear it.

Did you find it ironic, Michael Vick, that you chose to remove yourself from play last weekend when you injured your thigh? Did it occur to you that a bruised thigh was too much for you to bear, but fractured jaws, broken legs, and gaping skin wounds were not deemed too much to bear for those you were entrusted to care for and protect?

Yet while the football player was stealing headlines, thanks to his injuries and awards, one of Vick’s former victims was making news much more quietly. Hector – who was fought repeatedly as part of Vick’s dog fighting ring and still has scars to prove it – visited a Minneapolis kindergarten class yesterday. The goal? To break stereotypes around the vicious nature of Pit Bulls.

The visit went beautifully. Hector is gentle, patient, and open enough to be trusted fully among a class of five-year-olds. After all the brutality he faced, after all the cruelty he endured at the hands of humans, Hector lives without aggression or vengeance.


– Leslie Smith