Michael Vick: call it a comeback but don’t dare say redemption

Yesterday morning, my husband announced that Michael Vick played well – really well – in Monday night’s game. He’s made similar declarations throughout the season. I think it’s his way of helping me brace for the onslaught of pro-Vick commentary I’m destined to come across throughout the week.

And sure enough, the headlines these last few days are proclaiming: “Michael Vick’s Turnabout Is Remarkable.” “All Hail Vick.” And “Vick: a Fetching Comeback Story.” The media loves a talented athlete, especially one who was once written off.

But I’m heartened to hear those in the field – even those who live and breathe football – weigh in with a perspective I can respect. Football is awesome, but maybe not as great as being a kind person. (Not exactly a sexy, sell-newspapers kind of story, I know.)

In a brilliant column in the L.A. Times, sports writer Bill Plaschke asks, Can you “cheer the player and boo the man?” Perhaps more relevant: should you?

Plaschke tells the story of Mel, a former Vick dog now living in Dallas with Richard and Sunny Hunter. Though he’s received the utmost in compassion and care since his rescue from Vick’s compound, Mel is still so emotionally ravaged from his days as a bait dog, he convulses with fear each time a stranger enters the house.

The dog’s scars remain so raw — and so heartbreaking — that Hunter can’t bring himself to watch football. While a stadium crowd cheers for Vick, a frightened Pit Bull tries to become invisible in a corner of the house. Though it’s been years since Vick has touched him, he hides his head and lies motionless, soundless. As Plaschke writes, the bark was literally beaten out of him.

Vick’s comeback as a football player may well be unprecedented. He practices hard and listens to his coaches; his work, as an athlete, has paid off. But his claim to be a changed man rings hollow. His efforts to right the ethical wrong he’s done are nominal to non-existent. His redemption as a person has yet to begin.

I’m at the municipal shelter twice a week and I see the dogs that have endured similar terror to Mel. They’ve been made to fight, they’ve been burned, maimed, ears cut off with scissors, their whole life with a chain around their neck. At the shelter, they cower in the corner of their kennel, shaking, tail so tucked they can hardly stand.

But these dogs don’t wind up with a loving family like the Hunters. Their abusers aren’t celebrities, and their stories aren’t televised. So instead of a second chance with the kindest of care-givers, their battered bodies and pummeled psyches are deemed unadoptable. They are disposed of and forgotten.

Meanwhile, I read the papers and I understand that Vick’s comeback story is incredible. The media can’t get enough. But for me, there is no amount of yardage gained, no number of records broken, that will take away the look in a dog’s eyes begging please don’t hurt me.

While there are still people who fight Pit Bulls for entertainment, still those who maim animals for sport as Vick runs exuberantly around a football field, his redemption is sorely incomplete.