Michael Vick and Redemption

Those that don’t know me very well are often surprised to learn that I am an avid NFL fan. Of all the things I’ve been, punk rocker, goth, IT nerd, ending with middle-aged parent and Tea Partier, the NFL doesn’t exactly fit the profile. But I’ve paid the rights to my soul to DirecTV for their NFL Sunday package so that I can watch games on an embarrassingly large Panasonic plasma HDTV.

I am also deeply involved in animal rescue and have been for years. I have financially supported several local grass roots organizations: Forgotten Cats of Delaware, Dumpster Cats, the ASPCA, Tri-State Bird Rescue, and the Delaware Humane Association. I have also opened my home to dozens of stray animals over the years, finding homes for those that I could but assuring all that arrived that their suffering was over; they would never again go hungry or sleep alone in the cold. If I could not find them a forever home elsewhere, they would join my pack of misfits and mongrels. I laugh and tell people that I belong to the “Dog of the Month club” but that’s an exaggeration; on average my wife and I rescue a dog about every other month and we’re about due for our next one anytime.

Three years ago I wrote the following about Michael Vick:

I’m no saint, Michael. I’ve done stupid things in my life just like anyone. But I’ve never done anything as bad as what you’ve done. My parents raised me to avoid doing those things – killing for sport and torturing for kicks. I’m no sadist, and seeing a sadist stand there as the camera shutters whirr away really pisses me off.

I hope you turn life around, Mike, but if you don’t I won’t lose any sleep. You can then rot the rest of your life having tasted success while knowing you will never, ever taste it again.

I wasn’t just a Vick hater; I wanted to see him completely and utterly destroyed. I was beside myself with rage at a man who could do what he did to dogs, and a system that limited his punishment to less than two years in jail. There is something unique about animal cruelty that sets it apart from all but a handful of crimes except child molestation or abuse. I believe that it is because the only thing that separates it from cruelty towards children is the fact that the sadists are afraid they’ll get caught if they do to a child what they do to a dog. Both child and dog are innocents and incapable of protecting themselves, and I believe that the line separating an animal torturer from a child abuser is a thin one, and one that she or he will eventually cross if not stopped.

Michael Vick was stopped by the full force of the Law before crossing that line. He was stripped of his fame and his fortune and sent to prison, and even today I stand behind what I wrote 3 years ago. Should he have been punished more severely as some have argued? Should he have been banned from his passion and his livelihood forever?

I understand why people believe so. I sympathize with their fury at seeing his face on the cover of Sports Illustrated and his name hung on banners inside stadiums. Michael Vick had everything that most do not – money, fame, athleticism – yet none of that stopped him from drowning struggling dogs in pails of water. As Isolde of Avalon writes:

People want Vick to be punished more because his crime was not one of passion or bad judgment or desperation. It was one of repeated, cold-blooded, needless cruelty inflicted by a millionaire who had everything against a bunch of innocent animals whose nature is to be loving and faithful companions for human beings. That is why people want “more”.

I understand that, and it would be much easier for me to agree with him (or her – come Isolde, forget the nom de guerre and use your name. It’s 2010.) than to accept the nagging suspicion that the Truth is much more complex than that.

Michael Vick admitted his crime and went to prison. In every interview he has not attempted to dodge the severity of his crime or his responsibility for it. He has followed the letter of his sentence without complaint. He has listened to his mentors like Tony Dungee and his former and current coaches – and by doing so he has forced me to answer this question:

Is it possible for a man to atone for his crime no matter how heinous its nature or how honest his atonement?

As an alcoholic I did terrible things to others. As a recovering alcoholic I have done my best over the years to make amends where possible for these actions. Now nothing that I did was anywhere near the same magnitude of what Michael Vick did, but who are we to judge whether redemption is possible for one man but not another? That sounds like Supreme Diety turf to me.

Over the past three years I have viewed everything Vick has said and done through the lens of suspicion, just as every ex-con or recovering addict understands the games played by other cons and addicts. Everything he says is worthless; only his actions add credibility to them. Vick followed the program laid out to him by the courts and by his mentors. When the Human Society president Wayne Pacelle spoke well of Vick’s efforts to end dogfighting, I took note. I respect the The Humane Society because they don’t get to cherry pick the easily adoptable dogs the way some so-called “no kill” shelters do, and they are often on the front lines of cruelty, working in the inner cities where the affluent are afraid to go to rescue or adopt pets.

How many people haven’t done something that they need redemption for? How many have never experienced the shame and disappointment of finding yourself in a deep well dug with your own hands and struggling to see the light above? How many have never struggled upward against a heaviness that sucks you down as you reach upward towards the light? How easy it must be for them to not feel the icy fear in the pit of your stomach with each loose stone that pulls away at your fingertips.

For Michael Vick the well is deeper and the light dimmer, but does the possibility of redemption exist for Michael Vick? Do the screams of dying dogs echo in his dreams the same way as the sobs of loved ones do in mine? Does redemption exist on a spectrum or as a binary event? Again, these are questions only Michael Vick or theologians can answer.

Before I heard of Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels I had no idea that dog fighting existed in the inner city. In the Midwest where I grew up it was known as a backwoods “sport” practiced in the Ozarks or in “Deliverance territory” in the Deep South. Vick’s case shone light on its prevalence in the inner city, and has helped authorities and animal rights activists to roll it back there.

It pains some people when good things come out of evil actions. Of course the end should not justify the means but shouldn’t we accept that Vick’s case has helped the cause of ending animal cruelty? Vick’s success on the gridiron only furthers that cause by keeping the issue in the public eye and funds flowing to animal rescue and support groups. Would these groups and their cause be doing as well with a broken Michael Vick in prison or in a half-way house somewhere?

When I sobered up there were people who wanted me to pay for my actions as well. I followed the 12 Steps and did the best I could, but for some it wasn’t enough. They never forgot my mistakes or forgave me for them, and that’s something that I will always have to live with. But sitting on the loveseat next to me as I write are a chihuahua mix and a beagle, the former found abandoned as a pup in a box without his mother and the latter running around alone in my field on the coldest day of the last Winter. They are warm, well-fed and loved. Would they prefer that I was ruined to pay for my mistakes?

Over the past 10 years I have helped raise a decent kid, supported a wife through medical school and residency, helped her through the loss of both her parents, and overall built a decent life for my family and dozens of stray animals – knowing throughout it all that one mistake would cause it all to evaporate. Should I have sacrificed those things and worn a hairshirt in payment for my mistakes as some even today want me to do?

What kind of payment is that anyway? What are the goals of people like that? In the case of Vick, what do they want him to do if not electrify the football field every Sunday that he steps on to it? What more must he do to redeem himself in their eyes?

True redemption is one of the most honest and beautiful things around. There are no more lies and clarity in abundance. The humility it grants endows one with a taste of serenity that a junky or criminal will never savor. Redemption replaces chaos with peace, selfishness with selflessness, wrecklessness with caution. It is a force of good in the world that can spread from the redeemed to transform the world around him or her.

I hope that Michael Vick’s redemption is real, but only Michael and his mentors know for sure. In the meantime I will not forgot his crime but I will cheer him on. I want Michael Vick to succeed to be redeemed and transform the world around him. I want to believe in the promise and possibility of Redemption.

UPDATE: Maybe the Eagles should reconsider this after their shellacking at the hands of the Vikings last night.
Eagles Pick Squeaky For Defensive Coordinator

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  1. Noah David Simon:

    would you write this if he lost to the Giants?

  2. Scott Kirwin:

    Absolutely not… Of course I would! In fact I started housework after the first quarter figuring they were going to get trounced, then decided to watch the last 10 minutes when I realized that bad Eagles football is better than good housework even if the Wife glares at me while I sit on the couch.

    It was the best 10 minutes of any game I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what it is about Vick – how he’s changed from his stint at the Falcons, but he’s amazing. And as a recent SI issue noted, a lot of people have trouble with that.

    I would cheer for Vick if he were on another team for the simple reason that I believe in the power of Redemption. That’s the whole point of this essay; it doesn’t matter that he’s on “my” team or not.

  3. IsoldeofAvalon:

    1)Isolde is the name I use in the Pagan circles and the name I prefer to go by.

    2) Yes, some things do need to be forgiven, but not his crimes. He tortured animals for absolutely no reason. Innocent, defenseless creatures. It wasn’t just dog fighting, he killed a few with his bare hands. Sociopathic tendancies much?

    We humans have our dark side, but I don’t care how much he plays the redemption card, for many animal lovers, we’re always going to mistrust him. And he deserves it.

    He acted like a damn sociopath by tormenting defenseless animals, and part of those far-reaching consequences is being branded as untrustworthy for the rest of his life. That’s Karma.

    All I know is, when he stands at the Hall of Judgement and faces Lord Anpu (Anubis) for the Weighing of the Heart, Ma’at will decide if his soul can truely be reformed or if he’ll face annihilation by being consumed by Ammit. Personally, I hope Ammit enjoys the snack but I leave that to the Gods to decide.

    I won’t forget what he did, just because he whines about being redeemed. There are some things too horrible to forgive-and the slaughter of defenseless animals for Gods-damned dog-fighting is one of them.

    Only good thing to come out of this is more awarness of dog fighting, but it’s terrible that it took Vick hurting those poor dogs for it to come to light.

  4. Watcher of Weasels » Watcher’s Council Nominations – Pre-Christmas Edition:

    [...] The Razor – Michael Vick and redemption [...]

  5. Watcher of Weasels » The Council Has Spoken – Christmas Eve Edition:

    [...] for Christmas, this week’s winner, The Razor dealt with faith and forgiveness in Michael Vick and redemption which asked the question: Can all sins be forgiven? And if so, what does it [...]

  6. kavips:

    A very eloquent and direct piece of writing. Thank you for it.

  7. twolaneflash:

    So, you being so doggone forgiving of character flaws, personality disorders, and just plain evil, I guess you don’t mind if we move all these predators in our neighborhood that we find on http://www.familywatchdog.us to your place, them having “paid their debt to society” and all??? I didn’t think so.

    I place Michael Vick in the same category as a child molester: not to be allowed around a child again, ever. Same goes for Vick and animals of any kind.

  8. Scott Kirwin:

    I doubt that Vick’s crime has anywhere near the rate of recidivism of sex offenders. If it does, then show me the evidence and I’ll change my mind.

    As for the database you link to, I have mixed feelings about it. I’ve argued in the past (at Dean’s World – I can’t link to it because he blew his links when he switched software) in favor of them, but don’t trust the government enough now to trust their accuracy. For example, branding an 18 year old as a sex offender for having sex with his 16 year old girlfriend and thereby putting him in the same boat with true pedophiles bothers me.

    At my last address I lived two doors down from a man branded that for that very reason. He ended up marrying the girl after she became of age and had a 1 1/2 year old daughter with her. Was he a threat to my adolescent son? I doubt it.

    As for him having a dog, I’m dead-set against it. He has to prove himself more off the field before that can happen.

  9. twolaneflash:

    Yeah, I’m sobbing all the way to church. We had a a case in our local high school where the male teacher, married father of three, molested one of his students. His wife divorced him, he went to prison, and he married his former student when he got out. I’m sure all the parties whose lives were traumatized by his acts are just hunky-dory, because, well, the memories are just so wonderful. Merry Christmas.

  10. The Council Has Spoken – Christmas Eve Edition | Todays Trends News:

    [...] *First place with 2 1/3 votes! – The Razor—Michael Vick and redemption [...]

  11. David:

    I always wonder how these animal rights activists square up in their mind their ‘saving’ of said animals but when it comes to aborting(killing) of babies there is not a peep.

  12. savedbygrace:

    anyone that would equate child abuse/pedophile with animal abuse disingenuous or terribly ignorant. I am also suspect about those so called lists. Yes, there are terrible crimes against children, which I feel the death penalty is quite reasonable for. There is no cure for someone that could destroy a child in such a manner. And, yes, young people that grow into pedophiles usually abuse animals first. I do not believe Mr. Vick falls into that category, I pray not. But remember this, if you will not forgive your fellow man, neither will the Father in Heaven forgive you your sins. Unless, of course you are sinless. Only God knows Vicks heart, and its not my place to stand in judgment. I pray that he feels the pain that he has inflicted, for I too am one of those who cant not rescue an animal that has been ‘thrown away’ and all my dogs and cats are rescues. I know this wont do anything to sway 2lameflush, but we will all stand in Judgment, and Christ is my answer.

  13. Ellie Light:

    Then there is hope for Hitler too?

  14. Scott Kirwin:

    Hitler never paid for his actions nor asked for forgiveness.

    You’re seriously equating running a dog fighting ring with systematically slaughtering millions, and starting wars that killed tens of millions?

  15. The Council Has Spoken!:

    [...] The Watcher’s Council has announced its winners for last week. First place in the Council category was The Razor with Michael Vick and redemption. [...]

  16. Bookworm Room » Watcher’s Council Winners while I was away:

    [...] *First place with 2 1/3 votes! – The Razor—Michael Vick and redemption [...]

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