A few weeks ago, the whole country got caught up in President Obama’s shout-out to Michael Vick, saying that he was happy that the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles had done something to give the footballer “a second chance.”
Why on earth would the President give a shout-out to a man who tortured and killed dogs and has yet even to admit to what he did?
None of the dogs Vick drowned, electrocuted and body-slammed to death ever got a second chance by him. And beyond what he was required to pay for their future care by the court, I know of no voluntary donation he’s ever made toward their rehabilitation. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has he ever even inquired after them.
“I’m not convinced you’ve fully accepted responsibility,” Judge Henry Hudson told Vick when he sentenced him. Vick wouldn’t talk then, and he won’t talk now. All he’s ever admitted to – doubtless on the advice of his attorneys and PR people – is using “poor judgment.”
A carefully orchestrated PR effort
So, what’s this latest flurry of publicity really about? As always, it’s part of a carefully orchestrated effort by the Vick public relations team. (And let’s not forget that the owner of the Eagles was a big contributor to Mr. Obama’s election campaign.)
This particular round began with another softball news interview where Vick announces he’d now like to have a dog, which fortunately he’s banned from doing until 2012. The interview, like all the others he’s done, is carefully scripted to avoid any mention of what Vick actually did to the dogs whom he tortured and killed at his own home. Instead, he says:
“I love animals. I love dogs. I love birds. I love all types of animals … I would love to have a dog in the future. It would be a big step for me in the rehabilitation process.”
The whole carefully choreographed strategy began when he went on 60 Minutes, shortly after coming out of prison, for an interview with NFL Today anchor James Brown. The interview was billed as “asking the hard-hitting questions.” But Brown was no Mike Wallace, and Vick slipped away with remarks like:
“I feel, you know, tremendous hurt behind what happened. I should’ve took the initiative to stop it all. I didn’t step up. I wasn’t a leader.”
In other words, it was other people who’d been doing all these terrible things and Vick just didn’t intervene to stop them. But, of course, that’s all nonsense. The fact is, Vick had been right in the middle of it all, right there in his own backyard, torturing and killing dogs himself.
Rehabilitating his image
And so it has gone ever since, with meaningless talk about rehabilitation and second chances.
But rehab starts with admitting to what you did. That’s where it all begins.
So the first step, if he were serious, would be for Vick to agree to sit down with someone who knows the dogs and who could ask him specific questions — questions about the rape stands, the electric cables, the drowning tubs, the bait dogs, and how he body-slammed dogs to death himself. And it would be understood that if Vick started dodging the questions, the interview would simply end.
Vick might also consider dedicating a suitable percentage of his substantial income to Pit Bull rescue groups around the country where people are struggling every day to give a second chance to thousands of dogs just like the ones rescued from the Bad Newz Kennels.
None of that is anywhere on the horizon. Instead, the football star gets to rehabilitate not his life but his image, giving carefully-prepared talks to school kids and others, who, suitably star-struck, give him stand-up ovations at these appearances – all sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States. (The HSUS, incidentally, recommended that all the dogs rescued from Vick’s kennels be killed. So they weren’t exactly into second chances for the dogs, either.)
The idea of these talks is that Vick tells the kids not to get drawn into dogfighting. But a lot of us worry about the underlying message that a person like Vick is really delivering. If he’s never even admitted to what he did, I’d say his real message to the kids is something like this:
“Hey, kids, look at me. And look what you can get away with. You can do the worst things in the world, but as long as you’re a celebrity with a good PR company, you don’t even have to own up to what you did. You’ll spend a token amount of time in prison, but in no time at all you can get back to being a rich, famous star again. Just like me.”
Send the dogs!
To anyone who wants to send a real message to kids about respect for animals, I’d say don’t send Michael Vick; send the dogs! Today, many of the dogs Vick tortured are in new homes leading good new lives. Some have even qualified as therapy dogs. Others are still in sanctuary.
Who better than these dogs to give young people a message about redemption, recovery, resilience and forgiveness? Let them see a few of the photos of the way these dogs had been treated by Vick before they were rescued. And then let them meet the dogs, alive and thriving, with their tails wagging and their lives changed forever.
Meanwhile, let Michael Vick play football if people want to watch him, but get him off the stage and out of the lives of school children. As an ambassador for kindness to animals, he’s a non-starter.
Only if he ever has the courage to stand up and tell us the truth about what he did can any true second chance begin. Until then, we don’t want to hear any more apologetic drivel about how he’s a changed man.
This article first appeared here on stubbydog.org.