Afternoon Inquisition

AI: The Michael Vick conundrum

Yes, I know Skepchick isn’t a super sporty place, and I know Michael Vick is the Philadelphia Eagle’s quarterback.  Bear with me.

If you didn’t know Vick plays for the Eagles, you very likely only know that in 2007 he plead guilty to crimes relating to funding a dog fighting operation he called the Bad Newz Kennels. He plead guilty, and served 21 months in prison. He paid fines, lost his job, and was deservedly torched in the court of public opinion.

His actions were reprehensible, no question. So what’s my conundrum?

He admitted his wrong-doing, accepted his punishments both fiscal and societal, and served his time.  He does seem to have learned over the years how bad this behavior was.  He is, I believe, finally coming around to remorse.  He is, with certainty, working to prevent the same behavior again. Logically, he has done everything “the system” has asked of him during his rehabilitation, and yet more on his own. He has served his debt.

And yet I know people who curse and cringe and are disgusted each time he runs on-field for the Eagles, and say he should never work again. They are gleeful at the news that most of his thirty million dollar fortune has been used up in service of this debt. I understand their revulsion, but am confused by the logic of “he should never be allowed to work again.” And then again, I kind of get it. Because who does what he did?  And if one does what he did, how do you ever trust that he’s somehow changed?

But we have a way to do that, built into our legal system.  Don’t we?

 

Can Michael Vick be redeemed?  Is time served and public rehabilitation enough?  Can emotional damnation ever be absolved?

 

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.

a.real.girl

A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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47 Comments

  1. No he cannot. Anyone who listens to him talk knows the problem. He admitted he was wrong. But he put it in terms of doing crime. He told kids to stay in school, and stay out of trouble. He never said a word about the dogs that were tortured and killed. He never said he was sorry for that aspect of it (at least, not that I remember). He should have spoken up for pet welfare every time he opened his mouth – but the dozen or so times I heard him speak, he never said a thing about it. Shame on him and shame on us for not calling him out for hanging and drowning dogs. Would you be happy if that was your pet?

    1. Of course I wouldn’t be happy. And I completely agree that it was awful.

      But I’m flummoxed by the idea that he cannot be redeemed.

      If he doesn’t work, isn’t he a burden on society? If he can’t be redeemed, why did he go through the court and prison system? And if that wasn’t enough punishment, why didn’t we give him more?

      Don’t we *want* him inching further and further towards that “I’m sorry for what I did”, like he seemed to be doing on All Things Considered last year when he said “I don’t want to continue to be hurt”?

      That’s surely not remorse, I agree with you, but it’s closer than he’s been before.

      Banning him from work or any chance at redemption seems to be counterproductive even if it feels right.

      1. @Arealgirl well obviously I’m not a shrink, so it’s just my opinion. However I’m a former veterinary nurse and animal shelter worker. And iwe’ve been waiting this long to hear him mention DOGS. People act like “it’s about the children” or “it’s about redemption”. No, bullcrap. It’s about DOGS. It’s been five years. If he regretted torturing animals, he would have said it by now.

      2. I’m actually a vegan and my opinion of him is very very bad.

        However, I’m a firm supporter of keeping the democratic principle of redemption alive. It’s a fundamental feature of a democratic society, and sometimes we don’t like it, but I’d think it would be abused if we changed it.

        The question in my mind is, are drug crimes and lower level non-violent crimes being punished more harshly as violent, corruption, extreme financial, and torture crimes? And are authority figures and rich people getting away with horrible abuses of the law? The answer to those questions seems to be yes, and that is troubling.

        My issue is justice isn’t just. I’m happy that Justice can serve its course and people can re-integrate, but it’s disproportionately favored towards authority and the rich.

        For instance it took 30 years to convict Chicago Police chief Jon Burge of torturing blacks into false confessions. Why the HELL is our system like this?

      3. I come from a country where the concepts of animal welfare and animal rights are still in their infancy. However, we have to consider the fact that most of the animal welfare laws are in the end made for humans: people feel better if they know animals are treated kindly. About the fact that he should’ve been banned for life, i tend to disagree. I think there are few crimes which require a punishment for life. Of course, only because he served his sentence doesn’t mean that people should like him. But just because people don’t like him it doesn’t mean he should be punished for life.

    2. Mike Vick is from a part of Virginia where I used to live. The Hampton Roads area is pretty diverse economically and racially, but Vick is from a very destitute, mostly Black part of Newport News. Why would his apology include an admonition for youth to get an education and stay out of trouble? I can’t say for sure, but I’d venture to guess that it may have something to do with the fact that when he was in prison in Kansas, many of the inmates he met there were Blacks and Latinos who grew up in poverty, just like he had. Perhaps he wanted to encourage youth of color to be vigilant that they don’t become victims of the prison industrial complex. To me, that makes a lot of sense (although obeying the law is hardly a surefire way to stay out of prison if you’re a person of color in the United States)

      Also in Hampton Roads is a town called Smithfield, where Smithfield Foods is headquartered. SF is a multibillion dollar business that kills more than twenty-million hogs each year. The company has also been a notorious union-buster and has forced a largely Black and [email protected] workforce to labor under unsafe conditions at an outrageous pace. Smithfield hurts the environment, hurts workers (especially workers of color), and kills literally millions of animals.

      As a vegetarian, I’m glad the Michael Vick fiasco brought the issue of animal welfare to light for many folks. As a Virginian I’m appalled that far greater animal rights concerns (as well as human rights concerns) are routinely ignored by many who are content to constantly bring up Vick’s past misdeeds, which are trivial in comparison.

    3. Michael Vick currently works closely with the humane society advocating for animal rights.

      http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2011/07/19/michael-vick-a-game-changer-on-animal-rights/

      “I deeply regret my previous involvement in dogfighting,” said Mr. Vick at a press conference alongside Democratic Reps. Jim Moran of Virginia and Betty Sutton of Ohio. “I’m sorry for what I did to the animals. During my time in prison I told myself I wanted to be part of the solution, and not the problem. I’ve been speaking to kids and urging them to be responsible and to be good to animals, and today I’m here to send a similar message, to help address the problem and break the cycle, of teaching these kids not to get mixed up in this crime.”

  2. I think crimes have different types of consequences. There’s legal consequences like jail time etc, there’s emotional consequences (guilt or lack thereof) and there are social consequences. Just because someone has served their jail time, it doesn’t mean they are free of all the consequences of their actions. I don’t believe that Michael Vick should go back to jail but that doesn’t mean I *like* the man. I don’t think anyone who could do what he did to defenseless animals is worthy of being liked or appreciated or even pitied.

    In this case, Vick is in a position where whether he is liked makes a difference. Because football players are in positions where they have a public image and persona to maintain, he is going to be targetted because people simply don’t *like* him. And that could have the consequence of him not being a popular player or not being able to play for the teams he wants to because PR matters to large, public organizations like national football teams.

    Honestly, it seems like this stuff could go either way. Chris Brown beat up a human being, served his time and it doesn’t appear to have hurt his career at all. And that doesn’t seem right either. It may mean that the general population has more sympathy for dogs than women…

    Can he be redeemed personally? That’s not something any of us can really say, without knowing the man. Should he be banned from doing his job? Probably not, but if the job includes being popular with fans and being a role model, in addition to playing the game, then he may not be qualified to do it.

  3. It’s dog people (and pet people in general). We never forget and we rarely forgive. Remember a couple of weeks ago about a vet that accidentally put a cat to sleep instead of giving it a flea bath? It was an accident, the owner even filled out the wrong forms and contributed to it, but the vet has been getting death threats. I have been having nightmares about it myself. Now imagine how we would feel about someone who deliberately hurt dogs. Nope, gonna be a long time before he gets off the hook.

    1. Yes, this is the kind of thing that’s killing me. I agree that pet people can be steadfast in their protection of pets. I’m that way. I believe we have an obligation to take care of them because we domesticated them. I don’t think he should get another pet, because I believe he doesn’t feel that way. His dogs were objects, not pets. THAT is terrible in itself.

      But, that’s not too logical when I consider that we didn’t ask for that as a penalty. Happens all the time — felons can’t vote, right? But that didn’t happen. It should have happened. But it didn’t.

      Like @Kelly Byer says below, he was convicted of a crime that wasn’t abuse, but RICO crimes instead. But then I’m flummoxed because “the system” chose that instead of animal abuse, not Vick.

      It’s not a question of if he’s a good man or not. It’s a question of what to do, as @dr dr professor said so well, if justice isn’t just?

  4. He was charged and convicted with gambling offensive, never with animal abuse.

    He has never admitted to the animal abuse

    He has never apologized for the animal abuse.

    And keep in mind, we are not just talking about dog fighting. We are talking about killing dogs by repeatedly slamming them into the ground and into trees. We are talking about killing dogs by hooking them up to car batteries and throwing them into a pool.

    That went way beyond gambling and arranging dog fights.

    There is NO rehabilitation for stuff like that, especially when he hasn’t EVER owned up to it, let alone “served his time” for it.

    If, if, if he had been charged and convicted for animal abuse, if he had admitted and apologized for it, MAYBE.

    But that did not happen.

  5. I think there’s a difference between the legal and moral issues. On some level, you can’t just throw people in jail until the psychics tell you that they are sufficiently sorry. On another level, we’re talking about this guy losing a couple of years and then going right back to his millionaire lifestyle and he’s not barely sorry about anything except the lost time and cash.

    We can talk about this as an intellectual, almost abstract issue. But then I look at my dog having a nap on the couch in my office, and I think about what Vick did to dogs and what I would have been capable of doing to him if he’d hurt my dog… and I think complete social shunning is the least of things Vick should face. If he could be redeemed, he wouldn’t be able to live with what he did.

  6. For me there is no conundrum. He served his time as required by law. However, that does not mean that he should be able to basically get back his old job. If I did what he did, I would never be able to work in my current position (university prof) again. Would I have the right to work again? Yes, but not in a position where I have such an influence over young people. I despise the Eagles organization for hiring him.
    I also don’t believe that he is rehabilitated at all. If a grown person thinks it’s OK to torture and kill dogs, there is no amount of prison time that is going to change that mentality. He will probably not get involved in it again, but I don’t believe his mentality about it has changed.

    1. You know, I’m at a point where I really don’t care much about the hearts and minds of people I don’t know personally. I just want them to stop doing harm.

      Tyson, Sheen, Polanski, Vick – I can’t be bothered to give a single fuck about their internal dialogue. The only pertinent question is ‘are they still causing harm?’

      If their hearts can be turned, I have no way to measure. It does seem deeply unjust that so many of these men are able to go on about their public careers.

      But we live in a world where serial killer’s art is a cottage industry, so what the hell do I know?

      1. I have to agree. Is redemption about punishment or rehabilitation? I think it’s a little bit about both.

        I don’t think we can know the inner thoughts or mind of someone else and I don’t think I can judge Vick on a personal level. I abhor what he did. But to me the main point is that he realizes what he did was wrong (or at least it will incur punishment) and that he won’t do it again. Rehabilitation is a difficult thing to judge and the best thing to be able to say to me is the person is no longer a danger. I think that Vick is no longer a danger. I’m not positive, but positive enough that I don’t think he should be locked up anymore.

        He’s served his time and he’s no longer a danger. As far as I’m concerned, unless he proves differently, he should no longer be treated as a criminal.

        Now other points that have been brought up have more to do with someone who is a role model. There are many people who haven’t committed crimes who I don’t think should be role models. And that’s something anyone is free to speak out against. But does it deserve the treatment he has received? I don’t think so. I wonder people would treat someone like Jenny McCarthy the same way. She was wrong and she did great harm to public health. Was it because she didn’t directly participate in the harm?

        My gut reaction is that I don’t like the guy. But I think it’s important to remember that he’s human and he has thoughts and feelings just like the rest of us. Even though he did despicable things, I have to accept him as human, the same as me. There is something in me that I accept, as difficult as it is to believe, under similar circumstances might have made the same decision. I have to believe that or I know that I’m just as guilty of vilifying something I don’t understand as some people are of vilifying Muslims or homosexuals or brown people.

        1. I’m sorry to disagree with you, but “vilifying” a specific person because they (personally) did something wrong is very different from vilifying groups of people for their religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation, etc.

          And I’m not sure which “similar” circumstances you mean which might make you act in the same way? Being a millionaire?

          1. Yeah, geneticdrift, @Ursula: Even though he did despicable things, I have to accept him as human, the same as me. There is something in me that I accept, as difficult as it is to believe, under similar circumstances might have made the same decision.

            That makes me a little confused. It is also giving me very strong urges to go Godwin.

  7. I think that the mindset needed to make the statement, “he should never be allowed to work again,” is the same mindset needed to proclaim someone should go to hell forever. Infinite punishment for finite crimes. Moral outrage is one thing. Demanding never ending punishment is something else entirely.

  8. To those who say that Vick has not redeemed himself–what would it take? If he did apologize for committing animal abuse, would that do it (or what would that apology need to look like for you to believe him)?

  9. Nope. Sorry. He hasn’t earned redemption. Nothing I have heard from him or about him includes any understanding of the harm he did or the pain he inflicted.

    I cannot think of a single thing he could say that would fix it. Someone powerful who wantonly hurts and kills the helpless for entertainment is not redeemable. Period.

  10. I don’t trust anyone that would hurt animals. I would love to know if there is any actual data showing that animal abusers are more likely to hurt other people. Yeah, I’m being unskeptical and assuming here, but I think he’d hurt vulnerable if he could do it.

    I don’t really give a fuck about Vick. I don’t care whether or not he gets a chance to redeem himself. I care about the helpless animals that suffered because of his direct action.

    1. Northeastern University did a study. It was overstated in the media but animal abusers were more likely to commit vandalism and theft if I remember correctly. May have been child animal abusers they studied though.

  11. Man, animal lovers are haters. I don’t like football, I don’t care about dogs, I’m not a vegan. He did the crime, did the time and that’s how it’s supposed to work. The dog fighting business is a business. Yes, they dispatch animals, yes, it’s illegal. Colonel Sanders kills chickens. Probably not very nicely. It’s not illegal. Yet. Enjoy your free range meat omnivores. These people will make it illegal one day.

  12. Man, I’m so glad to find so many people who feel as I do. Back when Vick was sentenced, a coworker said to me, “I can’t believe they’d ruin a man’s career over a couple of dogs!” I wanted to slap him, and had to just walk away.

    In my opinion, Vick didn’t serve ENOUGH time, and he’s not shown any remorse, so I still wish the worst for him. Unfortunately he seems none the worse for wear from his controversy. Still raking in the millions.

  13. To everyone commenting that he should have apologised and showed remorse before being forgiven and allowed to play football again, if that was the criteria, he would have apologised and it would have been meaningless. You cannot force people to feel remorse, and if you don’t give them a free choice to say what they feel you will never get any honesty. For me the problem is we expect too much from sports stars, lets appreciate their skill and not expect anything more than we would out of any other
    private citizen.

  14. We’re in the middle of a similar situation in New Zealand just now.

    Mike Tyson (boxer convicted of rape in 1992) is to come to give a speaking tour. He was granted a visa, then the visa was withdrawn, and now it is a big public debate.

    The immediate reason for the withdrawal of the visa was that one of the supporting documents was invalid (as I understand it, there was a letter of support from a charitable organization that was not issued by anyone that had standing in the organization to issue it) and this may get rectified, which will force yet another decision to be made.

  15. As a dog person, I will never forgive Vick or forget what he did. I don’t care if he plays football or not because, frankly, I don’t care about football.

    As an atheist, I will never forgive Vick or forget what he did because in his “apologia” following his release from prison, he spoke about accepting Jesus as his personal saviour and that Jesus helped him understand what he did was wrong. Hey, Michael, I don’t think there is evidence to support that Jesus existed and I know it’s wrong to adopt family pets from the pound and throw them in a ring to be torn apart by fighting dogs for “fun”.

    If you need “Jesus in your heart” to know that hurting other animals for pleasure is wrong, then you’re a fucking asshole. I mean, REALLY.

  16. You can’t ever really know a person’s heart, even someone you know very well. Certainly none of us can say whether Michael Vick is remorseful or not, now or ever. The best you can do is look at his actions, and his actions appear to present a changed man. Boomer up above quoted a time when Vick did indeed express remorse for what he did to the dogs, and as I don’t follow every word he says publicly (or in private, for that matter) I have no way of knowing if he’s expressed it at other times. He did his time. He didn’t use his fame and fortune to weasel out of serving jail time. I’m a dog owner and dog lover. Would I let Vick dog-sit for me? Hell no. But as long as he keeps his nose clean, he should be allowed to play football. Two years out of the game may not seem like a long time, but when the average length of a player’s career in the NFL is 3 years, that can be a significant portion of your working life as a player.

    I’d like to suggest that people have a soft spot for animals, in some cases more so than for humans. Our pets depend on us absolutely; they are more or less totally at our mercy. This makes them vulnerable and earns them a (deserved) protectiveness from us. However, if someone who commits a violent act against an animal (remember, humans are animals too) should never be allowed to play a sport again even if they serve their time, then there are a whole lot more targets than just Michael Vick. But you don’t hear the same uproar over players that commit crimes against people.

  17. The problem is that he’s not still killing animals and he isn’t killing nearly enough animals.

    If he’d just kill so many animals that people couldn’t wrap their heads around it without some sort of explanation and then denied them that explanation, people would stop talking about it.

    It works for PETA. Hardly anyone ever mentions the time they got caught adopting healthy animals and killing them. Also, they’re still doing it.

    1. PETA has done more to damage the animal welfare movement than any other group. They’re worse than clueless or misguided, they’ve made it nearly impossible to have a real conversation about standards of care.

      1. They’ve basically got the same business model as the Westboro Baptist Church. They don’t really actively do any practical work for their causes, with the exception of raising awareness through self promotion. They write up silly press releases that are really insulting to their causes just to get free advertising when the newspapers print them. They also clearly aren’t sincere in their causes, although in the case of Fred Phelps it’s more apparent in his lack of hypocrisy.

  18. It is like asking if my uncle, who owned a strip club and was a drug dealer, should still be considered a social pariah after he got out of prison, and went into the simpler life of a part-time farmer and cheese factory worker. Should the careers of his six children, my cousins, be impacted because of their relationship with a former drug dealer? Should he live his life in constant shame, and never have a shot at making a living, ever again? Surely, you would disagree (or be upset with me for possibly comparing his behavior with abusing dogs, because you’re unable to make comparisons, or something)

    If people are unable to forgive Michael Vick, that is their problem. He has done all that he needed to do, legally, and has demonstrated a real change, which is what all people should be hoping for in any criminal.

    Vick DID apologize – someone linked to it, upthread. I remember hearing about his apology, but it obviously is not enough, for some people. Vick cannot go back in time and undo his crimes, and to insist on eternal punishment is unbecoming in a skeptic. You need to be willing to accept that people can change and get better, or just accept living in a constant state of anger. Those dead dogs will never come back to life, nor will the cats that my family owned that got hit by cars on the highway (for an example of tragic deaths of animals that aren’t caused by direct abuse, unless you think that keeping cats as pets while living on a two-lane highway is criminal negligence or something). But a lot of the dogs rescued from fighting are in good homes now. We all need to learn how to move on.

    Furthermore, the whole concept of equating animals with human is a huge slap in the face to humans who have been treated like draft animals. Women who are valued only for their reproductive and/or sexual capacity, humans of both sexes who are used only for their physical labor, and any humans who live with physical and emotional abuse are much more important to me than animals. However, I also am disgusted by animal abuse. I’m able to see humans as more important than animals without thinking that animals are without rights as well. Though I am sure that I’ll get nasty follow up comments on how horrible I must be, and all of that. Truly, the vindictiveness I see in the animal rights movement is proof positive that ignorance and inflexible thinking are not just hallmarks of the right wing.

  19. My point is simple. Would he still be doing it today if he didn’t get caught?

    Yup.

    Tones of remorse are easy once you’ve lost that multi-million dollar job.

    Dog fighting is reprehensible. A guy near Chicago found his Great Dane missing. Two weeks later it turns up dead by some railroad tracks, mauled– teeth and claws ripped out. These a-holes disarmed this gentle animal to use it for bait and training.

    Maybe I’m a prick, but no forgiveness for Vick. It was not a “mistake”. He knew exactly what he was doing.

  20. @ Kevinf: Maybe I’m a prick, but no forgiveness for Vick. It was not a “mistake”. He knew exactly what he was doing.

    Exactly. And just to be clear, what he was doing was torturing – not killing, TORTURING, huge difference – animals over an extended period of time, as an adult public figure.

    Closer to a Sandusky than a Polanski (yes, I just went there, sorry, not making equivalences, just analogies), but would any of you guys want either of them becoming spokesmen for RAINN after “doing their time and apologizing”? Would any of you believe that either of them forging an alliance with an org like RAINN would be anything other than a cynical ploy for public redemption? That’s pretty much how I see Vick’s deal with the HSUS.

  21. All this talk of redemption sounds like references to religion to me. BTW, Christianity does emphasize the virtue of forgiveness. So why are so many unwilling to forgive Michael Vick? Has there been any evidence of him abusing animals since he was released from prison? If not……

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