November 26, 2010
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.
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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)
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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.
* 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.