Saturday, August 15, 2009

Michael Vick and The NFL

I really didn't think I'd add my blog voice to the ongoing outcry on both sides of the issue, but here I am nonetheless.

Vick was convicted of animal abuse. He was running an illegal gambling ring and viciously abusing and killing dogs. He served time in prison and then came the decision to reinstate him in the NFL, to allow him to continue to earn his rather cushy living playing the same sport that afforded him so much, including the money to back his hideous operation.

In direct response to my tweet against abuse, someone I don't know and had never seen on Twitter, tweeted me to ask if I felt the same way about people as I do about animals. Did she ever miss the point! I informed her that I don't like any abuse, in any form, directed at anyone, not animals, not people. In that respect, I'm no different from other animal lovers. We tend to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Another missed point is that people who abuse animals, frequently abuse people. It's a short step from Point A to Point B. So why are people lauding this man? The sports press in general seems to think that abusing dogs isn't such a big deal. Would they feel the same if Vick had abused a person? The general sports fans seem to think that animal abuse is okay as long as Vick can play football again.

Should he work again? Sure. Football? No, I think not. I think that he can find something else to do, something that doesn't allow him to reap the rewards of his previous career. He needs a lot of time in counseling to understand what he has done. He's repeating pretty words in interviews but they are empty. It's pretty obvious that he's using a prepared statement from which he can crib on TV. Say the words people want to hear and it's all okay. Well, no, actually it's not okay.

Many have pointed to his background, that where he comes from, people fight dogs illegally and that kind of abuse is considered perfectly normal. As long as you don't get caught. Are we to believe that none of his previous teammates owns a dog? Is attached to a four-legged companion? Are we to believe that he has never been exposed to this sort of relationship? That rather stretches credulity, doesn't it?

So, what should he be doing if this were a perfect world? Well, if this were a perfect world, there would be no abuse at all. Ever. Of any species. If he were to do anything it would be a real job, not a fantasy career where he makes an inordinate amount of money for pushing people around. He would be in counseling to learn about abuse in all of its forms. And he would go back to his former neighborhood and those like it and teach others why abuse is wrong, why dog fighting is illegal, and rightly so.

And the NFL wouldn't have given him another chance to make a lot of money but would set a better example for others. But for them, obviously, the bottom line is the bottom line and to heck with the kids who look to their players as heroes. Some hero Vick is.... Not.

But this isn't a perfect world. And it is up to each of us to do the job of explaining why abuse is abuse, the proven link between people who abused animals when they were children and serial killers, to teach about a kinder, gentler world. To truly Do Unto Others...


Barbara Ruth Saunders said...

Here's the sticking point for me. I abhor Vick and the sadistic cruelty he perpetrated. However, I can't go down this path:

"Should he work again? Sure. Football? No, I think not. I think that he can find something else to do, something that doesn't allow him to reap the rewards of his previous career."

I don't see the connection between these two things. There seems to be a seething envy in this culture towards celebrities who make a lot of money. If a janitor, bus driver, or systems analyst commits a crime, no one would believe that "choose another profession" would be a fair or relevant punishment.

I don't see the value in using Vick's very real and horrible abuse as opportunity to vent pent up covetous feelings about stars.

LFitz said...

My issue is that Vick is ONLY being allowed back to earn all those millions because he's sucked up to the INhumane Society of the U$ and PETA...of course, the latter kills animals too, so it would seem a good fit ;o(

I think it's far different for a mechanic to be allowed back to work than a football "star" seen by millions, being paid millions, and someone our kids will look up to.

Barbara Ruth Saunders said...

I absolutely agree that the support of supposed animal protection organizations is helping Vick, and that this is TOTALLY inappropriate.

I have trouble with the whole notion of stars as "role models" in the first place. I think the idolization and the demonization are the same phenomenon. But I think it's actually a little dangerous to let those irrational feelings obscure the reality that "professional football player" is, in fact, just a job - a glamorous one, a high-paying one, and a dangerous one. Being "not a rotten person" is not a reasonable prerequisite for a job.

Oh - and what I think is the real shame is that the laws against animal cruelty aren't such that he's behind bars until he's too damned old to play sports! I'm all for the long arm of the law rather than a primitive-style shunning.

Darlene said...

I hear what you're saying, ladies. For me there's a two-fold issue with his particular "job." Football is a brutal sport where he is encouraged to hit, push, attack, etc. So, the same things that bring out the abuser for him are rewarded in that "sport." I'd prefer that he do something that doesn't involved violence. So, there's my specific connection and I'm sorry I didn't make that clear.

As far as alleged "celebrities" being treated as heroes. Sadly, that's just the way it is and I don't want an abuser to be lauded as a hero. That just makes me sick.

Barbara Ruth Saunders said...

Thanks, Darlene. I understand your point better now! (And a great post overall. Nice to see a conversation going!)

It takes me down another path: In some ways, pro sports (and I'm an athlete myself, so I am not at all against sports) is on a spectrum with animal fighting.

For every highly paid player, there are many, many more whose bodies are broken and who never get big payouts at all. Even those who do get big payouts may be permanently disabled and in chronic pain by their mid-forties.

Remember the young Olympic gymnast who kept going with a broken foot? And she was an "amateur".

MaryH said...

My thinking is cynical I admit: no way was Vick not going to play again. It's the only reason I had to agree with HSUS's idea of using him to turn children who idolize this guy away from dog fighting. Maybe if there was a glimmer of sincere remorse, it could reach out and help one or ten or fifty kids. I've been to the End Dogfighting program, interviewed the boots on the ground, and understand the need to use fame to turn things around.

And as to money envy, I don't think that's at issue here...I think the point is that no one who kills dogs with his bare hands should be rewarded with a prime job in the public eye, have all manner of things made easy for him because of fame and fortune, and be given the ridiculous adulation that was part of the reason this person thought he could flagrantly do what he did. It is unhealthy for everyone.

Consequences are important. Football is a violent sport and I can't see how this works to rehabilitate him: putting him in the same position where people whitewash his mistakes for him. I think a message should have been sent, a line drawn,to give this guy time to build some character, be humbled, and sincerely repentant.

The NFL shows us who they really are; we knew, we just didn't want to face it. The leagues are filled with criminals of all stripes and it doesn't matter as long as they can play to win. Back to my inner cynic.

Skye said...

Once married to an ex pro football player, I think it is important to remember that football is a sport of ongoing and directed violence of one person toward another. The lists of women married to ex pros who became battered wives and partners is rather horrific. I know because I became part of those statistics.

All that to say is that, to me, it came as no surprise that Vick would in an alternate avocation abuse animals. Violence begets violence and it becomes ongoing. Vick, in the end, may just redirect what he used against dogs back to the football field. If statistics bear out, he will again, at some time, hurt someone or some thing.

That is the great sadness. It is clear to psychologists that children who abuse animals are in line for great psychological difficulties.

I think what I'm trying to say, is that this isn't the end of the Vick story whether he's on a 300 yard field or delivering mail. These kinds of problems rarely just end without a great amount of healing work on the part of the abuser.

The Vick story will resurface.

Remember a guy named OJ Simpson?


Skye Leslie

Darlene said...

This is an extremely thoughtful, thought-provoking discussion and I thank each of you for your insightful comments. I hope the dialog will continue.

@kszernec said...

Very well-written. Thanks so much for posting, and for all your great stuff on Twitter.

- @kszernec

Arthur said...

As has been already mentioned American Football is a contact and violent sport, which is a major reason I do not watch nor even understand it.

Yet Skye's reply is very possible in regards to spouse abuse, another layer is added within this discussion. Skye I am very sorry for what must has been a nightmare to go through. I do hope all is well and you are doing well.

I am not thrilled about the Vick's charitable donation part, this is just a great tax right off for him. Yet a double edge sword, at least the donations are going to help animals and awareness.

I am glad you posted this article, the more awareness this brings then the hope this practice will find an end.

My families first dog was a pit bull, and what a great dog she was.
I will admit she was a protective family dog. But like any animal, it all depends upon how the animal was raised, with love and care or with bitterness.

Pit Bulls have been "tagged" as dangerous dogs, I just wish the owners were tagged as well for being dangerous.

Arthur said...

I am sorry to read such news about abuse of animals, and I am sorry to read Skye's post. Skye I do hope all is better for you.

As has been pointed out American football is a violent sport. At least in my opinion.

As a child we were raised with a pit bull, which I admit was a protective dog towards the family.

Pit bulls have been tagged as dangerous dogs, whereas in my opinion the owners should be tagged as dangerous people.

There appears to be some kind of cycle here with his returning to playing football, Vick making contributions to Animal Organizations:Great, but he gets a tax right off for this donation.

Will he change his attitude towards animals, I think only when he learns to like himself first

Barbara Ruth Saunders said...

I personally don't get football. But I agree that football itself is "violent." There is much talk in the world of education about a concern that kids without a lot of advantages will see themselves winning the sports lotto. Kids in those same environments are the ones who may get involved in violent crimes in their own neighborhoods.

What makes sense to me as an explanation is that most violent football players come from this kind of background (and that fame amplifies it and helps them to get away with it.) At that point, I can see that violence in football itself might be more tolerable to them. But I don't believe that football makes non-violent people violent or attracts violent people because it is a venue to do violence.

I grew up playing sports. At some point I realized that I lacked the level of aggression in my personality that a champion athlete has - even solitary sport athletes must have it. This aggression isn't violence, though I think some people feel it as violence. Controlling one's own aggression and fear is the heart of sports. This is why young men on the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, groomed for high achievements in business, are all trained to play sports.

Darlene said...

Skye, I am so sorry to hear of what you've suffered and you've confirmed what I have long suspected -- that the aggression was so ingrained that it was carried off the field Perhaps some are able to leave it there but I think there would be precious few.

Barbara, I was a dancer so I understand what you're saying about working through pain. But for the dancer it's more a case of perfection, I think, than competition unless two are competing for the same role but that comes down to the usual casting competition.

Yes, to be a professional in sports there must be drive but I don't think I would personally use the word aggression to describe, for example, a golfer. I think a certain level of competition and perfection is involved that requires great commitment combined with skill and perhaps even a "gift" of natural ability. But for real aggression, I think of sports like football and hockey.

Kids from that background need to understand that education is really their key, and self-esteem needs to be built up. A lot of people who have done well have come from poor backgrounds. That's what built the U.S.

I agree with Arthur about the tax write-off yet the money might go to a good cause, depending upon the individual "charity."

I'm very much enjoying this discussion and didn't dream that this particular venue would be the place where it might be facilitated! Thank you everyone! I hope more will participate. :-)

Barbara Ruth Saunders said...

I believe I do mean "aggression" and "competition". I think those are healthy and normal human qualities that are distinct from discipline.

I had the experience once of playing pickup basketball with a woman who is sort of a stereotype of a very gentle hippie. I remember realizing during the game that I could evoke the emotion of fear in her by directing aggression towards her when blocking passes, stealing the ball, or driving past her. This flustered her and allowed me to get into the clear to shoot.

The feeling I summoned was what I am calling "aggression". It was not at all a desire to do harm. In fact, I'd say that using that energy to do harm is something people who feel powerless of defensive tend to divert into harming people. I remember seeing the fear in her face and wondering what my life would be like going through life with that kind of fear and without aggression. I use that energy to accomplish things in life. In this sense, I would describe, for example, Martin Luther King and Gandhi having this "aggression" in abundance.

Anonymous said...

Very intelligent & thought provoking discussion.

I should say up front, I am a football fan, but I also understand the comments of Skye & others. I don't think football makes abusers, rather it facilitates them. There are some nice, responsible men playing football, but I wouldn't contest Skye's statistics. I believe what you truly are follows you & perhaps influences your path.

My best argument against Vick being allowed back into football is that he has proven himself to be a violent personality and football, being what it is, puts him back into an environment from which, unfortunately, Skye suffered the consequences. It's not the money.

Pedophiles, even if they were parents or teachers, are not even allowed to live within certain distances of schools or ever work with children, even after they have "paid their debt". That's because rehabilitation is not automatic & children are valued. Animals, not so much.

Vick has a team of lawyers & media handlers now who tell him what to say & how to act. I'm not convinced, are you?

I have a friend who is organizing a walk around the stadium with pit bulls before the Colts game. You can find it under Pitties for Colts on Facebook. I thought it was a brilliant idea.

Thank you for the discussion.

Darlene said...

Thank you, everyone, for your wonderful, thoughtful, thought-provoking comments. I dare say this is the most civilzed, polite discussion I've seen on this topic.
I think everyone made excellent points. I wish "Anonymous" had signed their name. I do love that person's analogy about pedophiles having paid their debt to society but not being allowed within a certain radius of schools, etc.
I never expected this discussion when I posted. If I thought about one, I probably would have thought it would be somewhat contentious. Thanks for an extremely pleasant surprise! :-)

Barbara Ruth Saunders said...

There was a tribute piece to Ted Kennedy in USA Today's sports section. The title "Love of competition calmed, pushed Kennedy." The article mentions that he played football at Harvard and "gained interest from the Green Bay Packers.

(Without commenting about his political opinions or beliefs,) this is an example of what I mean. To be the Lion of the Senate takes actual aggression and a spirit of competition. Not just discipline, resolve, or any of those "softer" words.

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