Not surprisingly, when I asked people to share their opinions on Michael Vick, the viewpoints were both impassioned and diverse. They spoke of his public image, his NFL status, his marketability, and his mental health.
According to the legal system, Vick will have paid his debt to society once his parole is complete. He is then in a position to petition the NFL for reinstatement. He has said he would like to return to professional football but knows he has a long road ahead, both in terms of convincing a team he can still compete and convincing the public he deserves a second chance.
I spoke with a friend who is a father of two, but who also was acquainted with Michael Vick when they were both employed with the Atlanta Falcons. Although personally disgusted by Vick’s actions, he spoke of Vick’s willingness to make amends, pay for care of the surviving dogs, speak publicly about his mistakes, and about working his way back into society and into professional football. He mentioned a few NFL players who are currently in the league who have faced drug convictions, DUI manslaughter charges, and weapons-possession charges. His question is, are Vick’s crimes any worse than these? These players have served their time, faced their NFL fines and suspensions, and are free to continue their careers. Why should Vick be any different?
My brother responded similarly saying, “there is no association between his athletic skills and his ‘debt to society.’ Anyone who feels he should not be able to compete because of his unrelated actions should ask themselves if they should be fired from their job and not allowed to get another one in the same industry if they have ever shown poor judgement.”
A reader named Kristen emailed me and commented, “I do agree that dog fighting is stupid and should definitely (sp) be considered animal cruelty, however, I am confused about what is and isn't considered animal cruelty. For example, I don’t think bulls appreciate bull riding. Or when horses or dogs used for racing are no longer good for their sport, they are put to sleep which seems cruel to me. Hunting for a sport and hanging the head on your wall? Doesn't that seem a little mean too? Or killing animals for fashion. Is that not cruel?” I agree that much of the outrage over Vick’s crimes was more about how he offended us morally than it was about the legality of dog fighting and gambling.
Still others thought Vick’s absence from the league for so long would likely prevent any team from being willing to take a chance on him, especially considering the negative press that would be attached. A friend said, “I honestly do not think Mike Vick is a commodity that any NFL team will put their hands on. Sure he is a talented athlete, but the baggage he brings with them will be a headache that just isn't worth it.”
Many people, including my mother-in-law, a fifth-grade teacher, immediately looked to Vick’s image as a role model and argued, “he has shown that he is a cruel person. Kids need role models and need to know that there are consequences for cruelty to animals. He was way beyond cruel as his was a money making endeavor.” Most of my ‘mom’ friends felt the same way. We look at his status as an icon, and we cannot help but think of how his acts affect our children. I certainly do not want my sons to believe that his horrific acts are acceptable, forgivable, or anything less than inhumane.
But I also believe people make mistakes. I believe that second chances are often warranted. There is no acceptable excuse for what Vick did to those dogs. His intent was malicious, selfish, and calculated. But if has truly ‘changed’ and has completed his legal punishment, can his actions be used for good? Can my children look to him and see the mistakes he made, learn to make better choices, and also learn to accept that second chances are sometimes possible?
I asked my mother-in-law to speak with her fifth-grade students about the story. They debated these same issues and wrote responses to my questions about making amends and second chances. Most spoke harshly of Vick and pointed out his cruelty and willingness to make money off of the killing of dogs, and agreed that he is no role model for children to follow.
One commented “he shouldn’t be making millions of dollars knowing he commited (sp) murder. If he can’t get a job because he’s to unsmart to, then he should go to school… Vick was greedy and traned (sp) dogs to kill and fight other dogs just for money. Look where his greed got him.” Another wrote, “all the charges Michael Vick paid is nothing compared to the lifes (sp) of the dogs that were killed in the dog fights.”
Others pointed out that Vick “did a very stupid thing” but has “hopefully had his punishment and learned his lesson” and that he has “paid his debt to society” and deserves another chance.
As many adults are, the kids who may have looked up to Michael Vick are torn in their opinions. Of course, the NFL commissioner and team owners will have the only say that truly matters. My guess is he will be reinstated and be playing sometime in the next year or two.
He will get another chance to show that he has changed but, regardless, the ‘business’ side of the NFL will take a chance on a still possibly valuable commodity in Vick’s athletic ability. If the saying “bad press is better than no press” holds true, several owners will make offers to Vick, and he will have many options to earn another shot as a professional quarterback. Whether or not he will ever regain the respect of his former fans remains to be seen.