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Monday, January 10, 2011

What Would Michael Vick Do?

The Most Valuable Parolee is off the field for the rest of the postseason and it couldn’t come a minute too soon for the politically minded execs in the NFL’s home office.  No doubt the readiness with which football fans embraced the felonious psychopath was something of an embarrassment to all of them and I’m sure that Commissioner Roger Goodell had an easier night of sleep now that the Vick-related conversations can die down for another season.

Here, Vick is shown being not punished.

Since taking over in 2006, Goodell has made it his personal mission to stem the tide of thuggery that has plagued the NFL’s public image for years.  The problem seems to have grown worse despite his habit of heavy-handed fines for players that are unfortunate enough to be near bad things happening.  Despite this clear and vocal focus, the last few years have seen a continuation of the violent and anti-social behavior we’ve come to expect from our footballers.  From fights in strip clubs to bicoastal rape allegations to accidental self-inflicted bullet wounds (not to mention the crime of wearing sweatpants to a nightclub), the superstars of the NFL have not disappointed.

But sitting high atop the pyramid of shame is one Michael Vick.  Even before the details of his dog-fighting ring were uncovered, he had earned a reputation for criminality.  Only weeks before that horrible revelation he was being excoriated in the media for trying to take a water bottle with a false bottom filled with marijuana through an airport security line.  This was quite a controversy at the time but it almost seems quaint when we think about him telling the story to his friends while they stood around a bathtub drowning their dogs.

Now, I’ve made a few jokes on this blog at Michael Vick’s expense and have been faulted for “making light” of his crimes.  I don’t see that as a valid criticism.  If anyone is making light of his crimes, the fault lies with the jackasses at the league office that allowed him to keep his job as one of the elite QBs in the NFL.  It’s worth mentioning that the Papa John’s I managed in my youth would not have rehired someone after such an egregious offense.  That means that the pizza delivery business has a higher ethical standard than the NFL.

In a sense I suppose this is warranted.  After all, pizza guys have to drive cars on roads with other people.  The people that Michael Vick comes into contact with on a football field are padded up and prepared for violence.  Judging by the vigor with which they hit him, many of them may also be dog lovers.  One could make the argument that a job as an NFL QB doesn’t actually require any kind of character or semblance of moral fiber.  Hell, Vick’s little brother actually stomped cleats first on a fallen opponent during his college career and managed to land a short-lived NFL career despite it.  Albert Haynesworth once eviscerated a rhino with his bare hands and then beat a baby seal to death with the innards (that is only a rumor but if you know much about Albert Haynesworth, you know it’s more likely to be true than untrue).

But the problem is that the job of a QB is more than throwing a ball downfield or keeping an eye on the play clock.  When I was a kid, football players were my heroes.  When I watched my heroes (Joe Montana, Barry Sanders, Dan Marino) off the field they were involved in charities, they were sending positive messages, they were humble and lawful and if any of them were offing their pets they were sensible enough to do so in secret.  They were the types of people parents could be proud to see their children emulating.

But what of Michael Vick’s little fans out there?  How many Philadelphia teens and adolescents are dying to “be like Mike” and how many of them are training to do so by whittling breaking sticks out of their #2 pencils and pitting their poodles against the neighbors Chihuahua?  (For the record, a breaking stick is a stick, often made of fiberglass, used to pry the teeth of one dog from the flesh of another.  That’s how despicable the “sport” of dog fighting is)  How many kids are asking themselves as they drop back from the line of scrimmage in their back yard two hand touch games, “What would Michael Vick do?”

Tucker Carlson recently got himself into hot water by suggesting that Michael Vick should have been executed for his crimes.  This marked a major turning point for humanity since it was the first time in recorded history that Tucker Carlson has ever been right about anything.  Of course, a backlash from the sports media left poor Tucker tucking his tail between his legs (something Vick would kill a dog for doing) and he apologized as fast as he could.  The media seemed almost united in the single voice of disapproval for Carlson’s “thoughtless” words.  Michael Vick had paid his debt to society as they saw it.  Besides, it’s not like he killed a human being.

And it’s not like he killed a human being.  First of all, killing a human being would imply that he only killed one thing.  The number of dogs that died at his hand is not known, but it is certainly greater than one.  And unlike a human being, a dog is completely dependent upon its owner and thus is even less able to defend itself against Vick’s homicidal fury.

Cruelty to animals is notoriously hard to define from one culture to another.  There are places in the world where dog-fighting is perfectly legal just as there are places in the world where bull-fighting is seen as something other than brutal, prolonged torture.  The demarcation between cruelty and criminality is all over the map from one culture to another and there is little consistency so it would be useless to try to gauge Vick’s actions against some moral absolute.  Even US laws are inconsistent since there are things that are perfectly legal that are every bit as cruel as pitting two dogs against one another (veal comes to mind).

So let us grant Vick the lowest possible moral barometer.  Let us discount the nation’s law and the overwhelming majority of the populace that look upon dog-fighting as an act of unforgivable evil.  Let us put him in the most sympathetic court imaginable; a group of dog-fighters.

I should pause here to state my own shameful credential to speak on this matter.  My sister’s ex-husband was an avid participant in this villainous and disgusting pastime and raised and sold pit bulls for fighting until his death.  I never attended the actual barbarity of a dogfight but I did see the aftermath on the faces and muscles of his dogs and I saw video of several fights presented by the proud and heartless owners.

Dog fighting is every bit as awful as you suspect.  A fight usually consists of several rounds, each of which begins when the owner drags the dogs to opposing corners and lets them loose.  Genetic predispositions take over and the two canines clash with primal fury, digging and tearing at one another with no regard to their own safety or even survival.  After a few minutes, the two owners will “break” the dogs apart and bring them back to their respective corners and start it over again.  The fight continues until one of the dogs “cur”, or turns away from the advancing opponent.  When one dog tries to flee, the fight is over and the other dog wins. 

It is standard within the dog-fighting community to kill a dog after it curs.  Though the more heartless and bloodthirsty dog fighters will actually allow the victorious dog to kill the loser, it is far more common for the owner to kill the losing dog afterwards.  This is little different from the fate of a race horse that loses or any number of other beasts of burden that have been used up by their owners.  While that doesn’t make it forgivable, in the most sympathetic court in the world, we have to grant to Vick that what he was doing wasn’t completely outside the norm within the field of dog fighting.

But even if you grant Vick this ridiculously friendly standard, he still fails to rise above it.  Even by the standard of other dog-fighting, dog-murdering depraved bastards, he is still unspeakably malicious.  Most dog fighters kill their curs out of a sense of cold-blooded utility.  They make money when the dogs win, they lose money when they lose and they don’t want to spend money feeding a dog that won’t win them money back.  As despicable as it is, at least there is an attempt at moral justification there that is internally consistent.

But Vick did not simply kill the dogs that lost.  According to the court documents, he and his friends brutally tortured many of them to death.  A simple bullet in the back of the head would have been sufficient if the goal was just to terminate the dog’s existence.  Vick and his cohorts beat them to death, electrocuted them, drowned them and hung them.  They went out of their way to find methods of execution that were both crueler and more difficult than they needed to be.  Even by the standard of other scumbags, Michael Vick is a scumbag.

And that brings us back to Tucker Carlson’s comments.  Even when he said Vick should be executed, he did not suggest that perhaps they slam him against the floor repeatedly until he was dead.  He didn’t suggest that they hang him from the neck for several minutes and then give up on that and drown him instead.  He didn’t suggest that we stick him in a gladiatorial death match with another athlete and then electrocute him to death when he loses.

It is my view that the most perfect moral justice in the world would be achieved if each person spent their afterlife being treated the way they treated their pets.  I would spend my eternity fat, lazy and neutered.  My neighbor would be condemned to forever wear silly sweaters.  My mother would be spoiled rotten and overfed.  My niece would be neglected and attention starved.

So while we seek to find the right standard for Michael Vick, why bother with all these externalities?  Why bother defining cruelty to animals or trying to decide what level of punishment would be appropriate?  Why not ask ourselves the same thing that hypothetical Philly teen asked himself in his hypothetical game of street ball?

What would Michael Vick do?

Well, the Packers won yesterday and Michael Vick sealed the loss by throwing a big interception during the two minute drive that might have saved the game.  We put him out in the ring and he turned.  Tucker Carlson was wrong.  We shouldn’t have executed Vick when Tucker suggested it.  After all, he was still winning at the time.

But now that he lost…

Aaron Davies

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