By Steve Dale
When Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick was implicated in dog fighting, most fans were repulsed, but a surprising number actually rallied to Vick’s defense. At first, Vick actually denied all allegations, but it soon became clear that Vick not only bankrolled the brutal spectacle of dog fighting at Bad Newz Kennels, he and his posse sought pleasure in torturing dogs through electrocution, hanging, shooting and drowning. Only one thing can be worse " and that’s allowing children to witness and even participate in these activities " which he did. While there’s no evidence that any of Vick’s own three children observed dogs fighting, it seems other children did.
After serving his time behind bars, on July 27, National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally allowed for Vick’s return, assuming a team wants him. At the press conference, Goodell intimated, it’s not a matter of if a team wants him so much as when.
It’s interesting how many supporters Vick has had from the beginning of all this. At his trial picketers were there hollering in his defense. They weren’t even necessarily denying that Vick was involved in dog fighting. Somehow, in some circles, Vick’s participation in dog fighting only enhanced his street cred. At least some bloggers and radio hosts never swayed in support of their QB, particularly in the African American community.
Of course, the majority of fans contended they’re disgusted with Vick. Yet, if their team acquired the quarterback, I wonder how many season ticket holders would actually cancel, and how many would turn off their TV’s on Sunday afternoons. I argue, it’s a sad reality that there may be an increase in seats filled and TV ratings might shoot up too, especially if the team signing Vick has little else to offer.
Like it or not, right or wrong " Vick has a public platform. And everyone is interested " even those who contend they are not.
Why not use that notoriety for good? He accidentally has. Back in April of 2007 " even as he was first implicated in dog fighting, Vick unintentionally catapulted the brutal crime into the news as it never had been.
While I have authored many stories on the horrors of the dog fighting, so have many other journalists; not to mention several national TV segments, even at least one documentary movie " little attention was really paid. BV (Before Vick) when public officials were forced by local news events, media and community pressure to stand up and do something about dangerous dogs, they blamed the dogs, initiating bans on Pit Bulls. It’s all they felt they could do, banning a breed is far easier than standing up to a complex socio-cultural issue.
However, overnight, the Vick story shined a light on what some of us had been saying for years, Pit Bulls are only victims. Dog fighting is incredibly inhumane, astoundingly so. What dog fighters do to these dogs will turn the stomachs of most people. But there’s even more involved, as the American Humane Association discovered – there’s a link between violence against animals and violence to people, and thanks to Vick both the public and public officials seemed to instantly ‘get this’ too.
After Vick’s crimes hit the news, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) was instantly able to beef up laws pertaining to dog fighting.
Now, that Goodell has opened the door for Vick to return, you’ve got to figure Vick has to resurrect his public image, among most fans who are sickened by his actions. Still, Americans do tend to forgive. I think the best way to do that is for Vick to reach out to the masses " and sadly they are masses " who fight dogs. If anyone can access these people, it’s Vick, who remains revered in these communities. The HSUS says they’ve made a deal with Vick to do just that. That would be great!
However, I remain a tad cynical. You see, so far as far I know, Vick has not received counseling as a part of his sentencing, as American Humane suggested. I’m not sure a court can mandate that a person feel empathy. Vick has an opportunity today to impact society " an opportunity no football player can have on the field. He’s already made history, and will be infamous. He might also be famous, if he takes the next step. Now he has the ball, it’s up to Vick as to whether he scores the touchdown of a lifetime.
© 2009, Tribune Media Services, Steve Dale