Michael Vick will do something on Sunday that he hasn’t done in almost five years. He’ll be the starting quarterback of an NFL team. So of course, he’s still alive. His football career almost got killed though. Dead. Much like the dogs that died, for which Vick was convicted of running a dog fighting ring and sentenced to 23 months in prison. Vick served that time. He’s in his second season back in the league with the Philadelphia Eagles. Vick admitted his wrongdoing and walked the long path of forgiveness. Now that he’s back in the public eye, do we deserve any blame for what went wrong?
As is the case with many young, black, rich professional athletes’ behavior, no one cries foul as long as touchdowns get thrown, balls go into hoops, and tickets get sold. The dog fighting incident was not Vick’s first rodeo. On January 18, 2007 Vick was in posession of a water bottle with a secret compartment while at the Miami International Airport. This bottle had traces of marijuana residue inside. There’s even this image of Vick that surfaced, where he “allegedly” is smoking something illegal.
Add these transgressions to the heaping amounts of debt that surfaced once the dogfighting case came to light, and it’s obvious that Michael Vick had some severe problems before the animal cruelty ever became an issue.
Where were we when all of this was happening? Did we stand by silently applauding the long spiral passes and dazzling runs to the endzone, ignoring that fact that he was addicted to weed? Where was the friendly voice to say “Hey Mike, this dogfighting thing needs to stop.” During interviews on his BET reality show, Vick said that while he was involved, he never thought about the legal consequences of dogfighting because he’d grown up around it all of his young life. It had become “a part of his culture,” to paraphrase.
It’s so easy to blame the environment for personal wrongdoing, to the point of it sounding like a cop out. Under “further review,” you have to hold the mirror up to his community and see what could have been done to change the course. Vick’s right. In many black communities, dogfighting is a right of passage. I heard a young man from Pennsylvania who visited family in Memphis say, “Down there, they fight pits [pitbulls] like we play basketball.” What kind of people are we to support such a barbaric activity? The same goes for people who run cockfights and host annual pigeon shoots. One inhumane act against an animal is just as bad as another.
Michael Vick was wrong in his actions and deserved to be punished. But don’t think for a minute that his role as a professional athlete didn’t play a major part in the extent to which he was punished. Had he been an average, low-middle class Joe, he would have received a slap on the wrist – at best.
On Sunday, cheer for Vick. He fought his way back by trying to right some of the wrongs in his past. He climbed out and is standing on top of what looked like an early grave. The least we can do now is make some noise because our silence helped to put him there.
by Jamal A. Jones