November 26, 2010

Idiot Sports Announcers Watch (v. 1.3)—
Don't Call It a Comeback!

Don't call it a comeback
I been here for years
Rockin' my peers and puttin' suckas in fear ...
....
Shotgun blasts are heard
When I rip and kill, at will
The man of the hour, tower of power, I'll devour ...
....
Listen to the way I slay, your crew
Damage! [uhh!] Damage! [uhh!] Damage! [uhh!] Damage!
Destruction, terror, and mayhem
Pass me a sissy so suckas I'll slay him ....

—LL Cool J, "Mama Said Knock You Out"

This morning, I took Berkeley on our "long" walking route, about four miles total.  Along the way, we popped into the vet clinic for something like six vaccine booster shots—who knew dogs could get bird flu?  Of course, I also love the whole "bring in some poop" process—$22 to look at it, $4 to throw it away—not glamorous work, but it pays better than what some might argue is similar work at McDonalds.  About $160 later, Berk is officially the Superman of puppies.

On our walks, I listen to a variety of podcasts on my iPhone via Stitcher radio.  Most of the podcasts are for poker or sports topics, and this morning, I happened to load up the Dan Patrick sports talk radio highlights for this past Wednesday.  What I heard made my blood boil.

Patrick was interviewing Rich Eisen, a major figure and lead commentator for the NFL Network and NFL.com, official media arms for the league.  Patrick asked Eisen if he had to buy an NFL jersey for his young son, would he pick Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles star QB embroiled in a dog fighting scandal), Brett Favre (Minnesota Vikings star QB involved in a sexual harassment scandal), or Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers star QB enmeshed in two sexual assault scandals)?  Eisen stated that, because his wife was a dog lover who worked with the ASPCA, he definitely wouldn't buy a Vick jersey.

Then Eisen and Patrick went where they shouldn't have gone.  Patrick suggested that Vick, who is having a statistically remarkable season on the football field, should be a contender for the NFL's "Comeback Player of the Year", awarded each season to a player who has demonstrated perseverance in overcoming adversity (typically an injury).  Eisen emphatically stated that Vick already has Comeback Player of the Year "locked up".  If true, then the NFL has truly abandoned any pretense of caring about character over cash.

It's not just Eisen and Patrick drinking the Vick-comeback Kool-Aid.  This week's Sports Illustrated cover story also refers to Vick's "comeback" and "rebirth".  In fact, it seems many (if not most) major sports writers and broadcasters are firmly in the "bygones" camp in covering Vick, choosing to applaud Vick's athletic exploits with barely more than an apologetic "he deserves a second chance" nod to his criminal past.

ESPN columnist Rick Reilly suggests that, "in a backward way, Vick has been the best thing to happen to pit bulls" because he raised public awareness of pit bull fighting.  Well yes, by all means, let's give Vick a citizen of the year award for his efforts.  And while we're at it, let's give O.J. Simpson an award for raising public awareness of spousal abuse.  Reilly also suggests that we forgive Vick because he's "remade" himself into the "the most exciting athlete in American sports" by paying more attention to his diet, training more diligently, and working harder in practice.  Ya know, there are plenty of exciting athletes out there to applaud who seem to have learned those lessons without needing 18 months in federal prison for motivation.  Perhaps we could find two or three of them to hold up as paragons of virtue?

Another ESPN columnist, Bill Simmons, actually went further into absurdity in justifying his Vick worship.  Simmons actually repeated Reilly's "Vick did a favor for animal rights" nonsense, only he explicitly drew the comparison to O.J. Simpson and spousal abuse!  While we're at it, let's take a moment to recognize Tiger Woods for his strong work in support of traditional family values.

Simmons also suggested we are all "hypocrites" about animal cruelty because most of us enjoy eating meat.  I'll go Simmons one better.  Growing up on a farm, I've actually been a part of the meat industry on the production side.  I've castrated pigs, branded cattle, and been on a slaughterhouse "kill floor".  The difference between those in the meat industry and people like Vick is that the meat industry does not engage in animal cruelty for sport and gambling.  The purpose of the meat industry is to provide food, while the purpose of dog fighting is let a bunch of guys get their jollies watching two dogs tear each other to shreds in what are generally lengthy, bloody battles.  The meat industry minimizes the pain inflicted on animals (or at least does not cause gratuitous suffering to animals), while dog fighting thrives on maximizing brutality.  Michael Vick doesn't get off the moral hook for electrocuting dogs merely because many of us enjoy a good steak or pork chop.

Simmons also makes the absurd suggestion that Vick—animal torturer and felon—is a better person than LeBron James—basketball superstar who has never been so much as arrested—because "LeBron steadfastly refuses to admit his 'Decision' [to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat] was ruinously handled from start to finish." Seriously?  You want to stake the credibility of your support for Vick on that argument?

Now, there is one point where Reilly, Simmons, Patrick, Eisen, and their ilk are absolutely correct—Vick has served his prison time, and if the NFL and the Eagles want Vick representing them, that's their business.  Even though many felons after prison find themselves shut out of lucrative employment opportunities, Vick is under no obligation to turn down millions of dollars if some team is willing to pay him for his services.  If Eagles fans and fantasy football enthusiasts want to root for or gush over Vick, that's their right. Heck, I even understand the sentiment for Vick's fans—"Vick may be a felon, but he's our felon".*

Here's the thing.  Just because Vick has served his time, and is saying and doing all the "right" things, doesn't change the fact of what he did.  Vick financed an illegal dog-fighting business, looking to profit off of the torture of animals as a form of entertainment and gambling.  Vick also wasn't merely a passive investor, he got his hands dirty—and literally bloody—by participating in the killing of several dogs.  Vick wasn't someone committing a youthful indiscretion, nor was he caught in an addiction beyond his control. So please, can we all stop the nonsense talk about how Vick has overcome "adversity"? Adversity is something that happens to someone beyond their control; adversity is not the consequence of a personal moral choice. Adversity is an injury, an illness, a family tragedy. Vick's serving time in federal prison was a well-deserved punishment, not adversity.

For those fans who can stomach Vick's past off-field conduct, Vick's current on-field performance is certainly exciting.  For sports journalists, Vick's resurrected career is an attention-grabbing topic for punditry.  For the NFL and the Eagles, Vick's athletic prowess is certainly lucrative.  Frankly, if the league is sufficiently bereft of dignity and talented, non-felonious stars, Vick's cornucopia of highlight reel plays might well make him worthy of being named league MVP.

But, please, don't call it a comeback.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As you make your year-end charitable contributions, please keep these worthy organizations in your thoughts, or look up your local chapters of these groups and donate your time, cash, or needed supplies, or even help an animal find a new, loving home.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
The Humane Society of the United States
The Animal Rescue League (ARL) (Iowa chapter)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Just a reminder, when someone is dismissive of criticisms of Vick because "all he did was kill some pit bulls", here are some examples of the breeds of dog Vick consigned to torture and death.

(Image source).

(Image source).

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*  There are plenty of sports teams at all levels of play fielding players of questionable moral character.  Coaches, fans, owners, and/or administrators alike all have to reach some decision on where to draw the moral line regarding whether they employ, coach, or root for a particular player.  Even my beloved Huskers are not immune.  In my mind, Tom Osborne's legacy will always be tainted by his decision in 1995 to reinstate Lawrence Phillips to the team after suspending him for physically assaulting his then-girlfriend.  Although Osborne likely had Phillips' best interests at heart, and the Huskers did not need Phillips (they had a pretty serviceable backup RB in Ahman Green), nonetheless the fact remains that the Huskers chose to keep a pretty unsavory character on the team on the way to a second consecutive national title.  And Husker fans cheered.

16 comments:

  1. While it doesn't forgive what he has done in the past it does seem that Vick has reformed as is paying more than lip service in his efforts to rehabiltate himself. It's not trumpeted as his on field exploits have been and neither Vick nor the Eagles are blowing a lot of horns about it but there was a report on the news here a couple weeks ago with some people from the Humane society or the SPCA saying that Vick is giving a lot of his time, especially working with young kids to convince them of the wrongs of dog fighting and that it isn't just a "cultural thing" that people just don't get. Could be he is really a convert. But you are right, it isn't a comeback.

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  2. I hate the nuthugging of Vick. The guy is a scumbag. The reason he has "changed" is because he got caught. The reason he is "spreading the word" about not doing what he did is because he HAS to. Its called community service/probation. The guy would still be doing it if he could. He's a dirtbag.

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  3. The man paid his debt to the house. 18 months of hard time is a little light, but the fact remains that he squared up what he owed. Anonymous, I'm no fan of Vick, and I love dogs more than most. But scumbags like yourself who are willing to write anyone convicted of a serious crime off make me sick. I've been on the wrong end of the law for a ridiculous reason, and lost most of my rights in the process(not to mention any chance at a real job, hence the reason I play poker). You don't have to trust him, just give the man a chance to prove he has learned from his mistakes before you write him off entirely.

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  4. Uptown got its hustlers
    Bowery got its bums
    And 42nd street got ... sports heroes

    Sports is a business. I always wondered why my dad would want to take in a high school game over the pros. I've come to understand. Now what I don't understand is why TV sports are such a passion.

    There is no ethical standard when there is big money involved. That tells us that it isn't a place to look for heroes.

    Seeing all that has to include predictions, I will provide mine. It isn't my Saturday picks. I predict you will be the first gay nominated to be a tea party candidate. A MoSyn upbringing generates pure conflict. We can flee it but we can't ignore it. See ya at Walther League.

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  5. Well done and I couldn't agree more. Nice season by Michael Vick, but past transgressions are not erased, because you've behaved for a while and actually perform your job well.

    I was actually surprised last weekend to hear an ESPN host who wanted to put the breaks on some of this Vick 'redemption', Eric Kuselias on his weekend show. His position was similar, just because Vick has shown the ability to start rehabbing his life, does not mean all is forgiven or that he's suddenly a nice person because he is successful.

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  6. Jacob,
    I'm not a "scumbag". Vick is. Lets face it, if he was really apologetic, he probably would have stopped or changed his behavior prior to the federal raids. If he was a great person, he would have lifted his friends up with his wealth and potential, not lay in the dirt with them. Did I ever say he didn't deserve a 2nd chance? No. Is he talented? Sure. That doesn't change the fact he has flaws as a human being. Some time in the pen and some mandated community service doesn't change that fact, and doesn't make me the scumbag.

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  7. @ Jacob & Anon:

    Good discussion, interesting points. Please, let's keep it civil. No need to make it personal. Thanks, and hope you both keep reading and commenting!

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  8. @ Jacob:

    I think you make an important point, and perhaps it didn't come out clearly in my post. I definitely am not advocating (as some are) that Vick should be kept out of the NFL. He's entitled to play football (or take any other job) if a team (or other employer) wants to hire him. Frankly, the NFL has always had a certain number of rather unsavory folks, whether it's thugs, wife beaters, or substance abusers. I think it's unfair to Vick to hold him to a standard (you're a bad guy, so no football) not extended to some other not so nice guys.

    My quarrel is more with those who act like nothing ever happened (the whitewashers), and those who want to make him sound like a saint merely because he is doing well on the field and performing some community service.


    @ Wolfshead:

    I'm more than willing to accept at face value that Vick has indeed made a major life change. I believe in atonement and redemption. But, I don't think forgiving means forgetting, at least not in the short term.

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  9. I had a point in my earlier post I should have made more clear myself. I'm not saying that suddenly everyone should treat Vick with kid gloves, or that just because he did prison time he suddenly never hurt those dogs. He IS a scumbag for doing what he did. But Anon, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I'm an atheist, but the point of the story still holds true. I wouldn't call you a habitual liar or thief for having made those mistakes once, just as I wouldn't want the same said of me. Give the man a chance to prove he has changed instead of instantly writing him off as a horrible person for the rest of his life.

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  10. You aren't going to have any idea of who he really is until after football. Anything you are seeing is what his managers want shown.

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  11. This is the USA. He was convicted and served (still on probation, I believe) his time. We use the term "paid his debt to society" because society -- the courts -- decided his punishment and he completed it. In my mind he doesn't owe anyone anything.

    I do not in any way justify the cruelty of his acts. The world is full of cruel people. He is trying to move on with his life. I hope he is sincere.

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  12. I don't condone what Vick did at all, but this is the NFL. If you've got talent, you play. I also agree that he doesn't belong on the list for Comeback player of the year. However, he did his time and was reinstated by the NFL, so I don't have a problem with him playing.

    It appears as though he is actually reformed, but we don't know for sure if that is true or if he just has better PR management now.

    Who's sentence was harsher:

    Leonard Little, DUI Manslaughter - Probation.
    Donte Stallworth, DUI Manslaughter - 30 days.
    Micheal Vick, Dogfighting - 18 Months.

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  13. How does any of this mean Vick should not be the Comeback Player of the Year? I agree with mostly everything said in this post, including that Vick is a mega scumbag for what he did. But he paid his debt (much moreso than many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many other NFL players who have done worse things than he, for that matter), and he is having an incredible comeback season. This guy is the Comeback Player of the Decade in my book -- if this award exists, who else you gonna give it to than Vick this year? If you don't like the notion of giving guys with checkered pasts -- be it purely in sports performance or otherwise -- some award for coming back to prominence, then get rid of the award (which I would be fine with, it's a dumb award anyways). But this award was made to be given to what Vick has accomplished this season.

    PS full disclosure, huge Eagles lifelong fan in da house.

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  14. Forgiving someone DOES mean forgetting what they did in the past.

    I agree that Vick fighting dogs was a really horrible thing to do. It sickened me and I was as angry as anyone.

    I think he has paid his debt to society. I think he has really had a change of heart. I do think some of what he did was because of his upbringing. I do not think it excuses it but if the guy serves his time and does everything he can to make amends I am willing to forgive him which does mean forgetting what he did in the past and going on with a clean slate.

    Anyway good post. I appreciate what you are saying. I just think from what I have heard from the guy that he has really changed.

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  15. @ Anon (11/29):

    I agree that there are some serious sentencing discrepancies in the criminal justice system, often due to vagaries in jurisdiction, prosecutor, judge, and a host of other factors. Vick (and Plaxico Burress) seem to have also been treated more harshly because of their fame, while others in their shoes might have gotten better deals. Fairness in criminal sentencing is a chronic issue with no easy solution.


    @ Hoyazo & Sir FWALGMan:

    My sticking point is not so much that Vick's performance this year isn't worthy of an award. My issue is having that award be for being a "comeback player". At core, I just have a real issue with the concept that returning from a criminal punishment is a form of "adversity" to be overcome, and then applauded.

    If he's playing great, by all means name Vick League MVP, or NFC Offensive Player of the year, or Eagles player of the year. I won't applaud, but he's no less deserving than plenty of other rather distasteful or scummy characters playing in the NFL. But to reward Vick for being a great player after going to prison? Making Vick's criminal history something to be celebrated? That makes a mockery of the "comeback player" award.

    Just as a counter-example, let's assume Ben Roethlisberger had come back from his four-game suspension to start the season by setting an NFL record for passing TDs. Should we consider that a "comeback" to be applauded? Not in my view, but then again, I might just be overly hung up on the notion of "adversity", and it might be unfair to inject morality into judging "adversity". At its core, though, it just feels unseemly to let criminal conduct count as "adversity".

    P.S. Thanks to all of you for stopping by and commenting!

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  16. Hmm, the more I think about it, the more what I'm trying to say can be easily summarized as follows:

    An award like League MVP is based solely on on-field performance. What a player does off the field doesn't matter.

    An award like Comeback Player of the Year has a predicate element--"adversity"--that is (or can be) unrelated to on-field performance. In Vick's case, that non-performance element of adversity is his criminal conduct. So, at least to me, it feels like Vick's criminal conduct is being used as the basis for the award, which is why it strikes me as improper.

    Hmmm, much more succinct than my preceding rants!

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