Today, Michael Vick released a letter to the city of Atlanta announcing his retirement from football. It’s a very well written piece about how sorry he was/is to have inflicted so much past hurt – on himself. As happened during his public statements upon his return to football, he never mentions remorse or regret for nor takes any responsibility for eight years of animal torture and murder. He regrets only his own “suffering”. In reading the tens of thousands of reactions on twitter to his piece, you see the enormous opportunity he missed today. Because he is such a good writer, he could have truly, finally, educated those of his fans who don’t have a clue (and don’t know why they should care) about dog fighting and animal abuse; a sick, criminal part of our society that makes the whole of our society more dangerous, violent and abusive toward its weaker members.
TWEET: “Michael Vick would’ve shattered the NFL record book had he not been thrown in jail for being a black man.”
That tweet diminishes every lynching, every true miscarriage of justice against blacks, every unarmed black person shot and killed by police, with its “cry wolf” ignorance.
TWEET: “Why are people still on that with Michael Vick? Y’all act like he did what he did and got away with it. No, he went to jail for 2.5 years”
Actually, he served eighteen months, (two off-seasons), and not one minute of time for his eight years of animal abuse, torture that went beyond imagination. He plea bargained a “not guilty” to that, and pled to bankrolling a gambling conspiracy. I’m an animal rescuer, so I believe in second (and third, fourth, and fifth) chances. But Michael Vick never served time for nor took responsibility for his crimes.
TWEET: “white people kill deers and hang they head up on the ceiling but michael vick cant kill a couple punk ass dogs. eat a dick”
From Michael Vick’s Letter Today: “I was sorry — sorrier than I could ever express — for what I had done. I knew the millions of dollars that I had lost, and the value to my reputation that I had lost, and every day was a reminder of the freedom that I had lost. I knew all of that.”
There’s a lot of that in Vick’s letter, the disappointment of what he had done to himself, the disappointment of not playing football, of possibly not ever getting a contract to play again, against all that he had lost. Leaving out remorse, regret, or apology for what he did to animals, and the fact that they matter and it matters, is what leads to tweets like the one above.
First of all #ShopTalk, a “mistake” is hitting a dog with your car. Eight years of promoting illegal and sickening dog fighting for profit at Vick’s own Bad Newz kennels, where Vick himself electrocuted, drowned, and smashed losing dogs to the ground over and over in order to kill them isn’t a “mistake”. Neither you, Vick, nor many of his fans call it what it was; torture, murder, mutilation, so let’s start there. You know, you don’t have to be a dog lover to be appalled. Dogs are intelligent, sentient beings who feel fear, pain, terror. They are smart enough and emotional enough to be invaluable in search and rescue, to lead the blind, save soldiers’ lives, make independence possible for wheelchair users, or deaf, or autistic people. Their existence makes the world kinder and more humane. This wasn’t Richard Pryor shooting a car. In every interview I have read or seen, Vick repeats his contention that “no one ever told him dogfighting was wrong”, that others “should have told” him, etc. He was a grown man making millions and living a life which offered access to everything, but he “didn’t know”?
TWEET: “If I could go back in time and change anything. I’d go back and tell Michael Vick’s cousins to take the charge for him.”
And you wonder why many people don’t forgive Vick? When you minimize the horror of your crimes by omitting them, you get this tweet, instead of something like, “If I could go back in time I’d make Michael Vick not torture animals”. It’s not bad that it happened, it’s bad that he got caught.
America loves to forgive, we are great at resurrection. We always welcome back the fallen star as long as the star not only pays his/her debt, but, and this is the key, takes responsibility. Muhammed Ali, extolling Islam, was convicted of draft evasion in his boxing prime, given a five year sentence, a $10,000 fine, stripped of his title. Nearly 60,000 Americans were killed and 150,000 wounded in Viet Nam. Whites died alongside blacks. Every family of every one of those soldiers had every reason not to forgive Ali. So why is he one of all of America’s most enduring, beloved heroes? He manned up. He paid his debt. He took responsibility. He never once felt sorry for himself. In fact, the way he glorified himself, with charm, humor, bravado, actually glorified his fans.
Scores of people tweeted this today:
TWEET: “Catch me boolin wit my dawgs just like Michael Vick”
TWEET: “When I get a dog, Imma train it Michael Vick style”
TWEET: “My bunny bites her cage one more time I’m gonna be the next Michael Vick.”
TWEET: “… Falcons fans were burning Michael Vick jerseys over some dogs?”
All this animal cruelty bravado, because Vick’s fans weren’t made to get it.
TWEET: “Dog fighting aside, we will never have another Michael Vick.”
And dead women aside, we’ll never have another Jack the Ripper.
TWEET: “Michael Vick & his friends did a horrific thing paid his time and spent rest of life apologizing & helping that’s his legacy PRINT THAT.”
I would if it were true. Here’s what is true. For a sad $50,000 “donation”, the Humane Society of the United States immediately cooperated with Michael Vick and his publicist to rehabilitate his image. The $50,000 was a drop in the bucket to the HSUS, but the press Vick was getting allowed the HSUS to maximize the relationship financially, as well as ride his huge publicity coattails. The Humane Society of the United States started collecting money from the public to help and care for the “Vick dogs”, which they actually never had. After that, without ever having had the dogs, they claimed the dogs “could not be rehabilitated” and recommended they be euthanized. While the Humane Society of the United States kept the money they collected for the dogs, Best Friends Animal Society stepped in. They cleaned up Vick’s mess, along with the public who eventually adopted these incredible, loving dogs. Best friends used the always limited rescue resources of time and money to treat, help, heal, love, and re-home almost 100% of the Vick dogs. Vick made millions after his release thanks to the HSUS, and the HSUS continues to profit off his name.
Meanwhile, while Vick celebrates and profits, true animal rescue organizations continue to struggle under the weight of what Michael Vick wrought. Year after year, we do what we can to clean up the pitbull mess in America: backyard breeders breeding millions of pitbulls for fighting, most ending up in overcrowded shelters, millions being killed, millions more being bailed out at our own expense. Law enforcement saw an uptick in pitbull fighting after all the Vick publicity. He never addressed what he did, and his fans wanted to be like him.
Today was a true missed opportunity. 133 touchdowns and 22,464 yards don’t make you a hero, they make you good at football. Being a man who says to guys who want to be tough, cruelty is not the way, but kindness, love and compassion are, is a hero.
Top (happy) photo of JohnGarcia-Meryl-vicktorydog courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society