Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Return of Michael Vick

So Michael Vick served his time, learned his lesson, regrets his behavior, and signed with the Eagles; and I, for one, am delighted. He was, and still is, a very young man. As an NFL star, his transgressions were magnified for all the world to see. Imagine if the biggest mistakes you made in your youth were lit up in lights and published on the front page of the newspaper. Pretty awful. I believe his apologies and I believe that he is a changed person. He served his time, in prison, for his crime. He has been punished. He has suffered.

In my opinion, the discussions about him that I have read miss the boat. Vick says the first time he attended a dogfight he was eight years old. He comes from a culture in which dogfighting is a way of life. I am not condoning it. Far from it. I’m an animal-lover, a former dogowner, and a vegetarian. I abhor cruelty in all its forms. But I’m saying that in certain African American Southern cultures, dogfighting is part of everyday life. It took Vick’s “outing” as a dogfighting participant to throw this practice into perspective. Not only for Vick, but for other people who may have thought it was OK, because, well, it has been OK for as long as they can remember. Vick apparently grew up with dogfighting and never had that aha moment when he realized that something about it was terribly wrong until his downfall.

There are many reprehensible cultural institutions that persist far too long because those from inside the culture need a change in perspective to “get it.” Animal sacrifice and human sacrifice were acceptable in ancient times. Slavery was a cultural institution on which this country was founded. And “paddling” (i.e., beating) of schoolchildren is still legal in many states, despite the known harm to children of corporal punishment as well as the statistical evidence that disabled children are universally “paddled” with shamefully more frequency than their peers. We could talk for a long time about cultural institutions that should have been shed miles ago on the path of evolution. Dogfighting is certainly one of them. So let’s get a little perspective on Michael Vick’s plight and give the guy a chance to redeem himself. He has made a commitment to donate money to animal rights causes and he now speaks out publicly against dogfighting. Perhaps his experience will steer a whole generation of young men clear of this dreadful practice because he’s a role model. And he’s a heck of a ballplayer. I look forward to admiring the beauty of his game again.

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