Earlier this week, news started making the rounds that Michael Vick—of nightmarish, gruesome dog fighting fame—had signed a 1-year contract worth $5 million to play for the New York Jets. Mostly, it’s been received pretty quietly; a Yahoo writeup noted that “The main problem [Jets coach Rex] Ryan faces is Vick’s lack of dependability.” But, um, what about all the other stuff?
In a media culture that loves nothing more than a good rage, I looked around, and didn’t find too many people that seemed too concerned about a guy who forced his dogs to rape and kill one another representing one of the biggest cities in the world at one of the biggest sports in the world. The president of the ASPCA wrote an op-ed for the Post about it, and the Village Voice ran an excellent blog post titled, “Reminder: Michael Vick’s Dogs Were Shot, Electrocuted, Hanged, and Beaten to Death” chronicling his crimes in excruciating detail, but these were the outliers.
I haven’t been following Vick’s career closely after his 18-month prison stint (which, by the way, he really thinks should’ve been more like five months), so I ran it by a friend who pays closer attention, and he explained things as such: “He does seem to have genuinely repented and made amends. But I think mostly it’s just that no one thinks it’s worth it to drag him through the ringer a second time.” People might have other reasons not to be bothered; per our Culture Editor and resident vegan Henry Stewart, “I think Michael Vick is an asshole, but not so much worse than people who eat hamburgers.”
And there’s truth to both things. Vick is hardly an exception as far as athletes who’ve done despicable things—the NFL is in the business of keeping people with cartoonishly monstrous criminal records employed and ultra-wealthy—and Vick has done as well as he could with the situation, repenting, serving his time, doing ongoing work as an animal rights advocate and a spokesperson for the Humane Society. Jets owner Woody Johnson has called him a “changed person.” Which may well be true! There’s no need for Vick spending the rest of his days flagellating himself, but there’s also not a need elevate him to a hero’s position, earning more money than most people see in a lifetime. In his op-ed, ASPCA president Matthew Bershadker put it like this:
Every American should look at dog-fighting as more than just a crime, but as a deep stain on our national character. Until we reach this point — which would bring an overdue end to this reprehensible practice — its perpetrators must bear the burdens of that stain, lest we signal the weakening of our resolve.
For now, though, it looks like Vick is here to stay. I was never a Jets fan anyway.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.