Back when the Michael Vick story first broke, it brought an avalanche of vigilante journalists running to the rescue, with more mind bending methods of torture being described for Michael Vick than I can ever remember for...
The only people I can think of in recent memory who have generated such rabid hatred are O.J. Simpson, Saddam Hussein, and maybe, just maybe, Mohammed Atta and friends (remember them? the terrorists who took over the planes back in 2001 on September 11th?).
I personally don't like dogs. Actually, I can't stand dogs. Even though I live with one. So I don't have any semblance of a heartstring to be tugged by that part of the storyline. Not even after seeing the horrible photos of the dogs who were mauled and mutilated beyond belief by him and his crew - cruelty that was certainly far beyond anything these animals deserved.
I also have to admit that I was an unabashed fan of Vick's athletic prowess from the start of his Falcons tenure, so much so that I would have been willing to go without another Super Bowl appearance if I could see that phenom play every fall Sunday. We saw him take the rag tag collection of players that is the modern version of the Falcons to the brink of a Super Bowl appearance.
Vick flew through the air towards the goal line pylon, the way he does in the picture above, practically every week. I can do nothing here but confess that I loved every frustrating minute of his tenure, even though us diehard fans knew that he must have been smoking a whole lot of weed, because as quick as he was at eluding pursuers, Vick could not "take it to the house" if there was more than forty yards of open field between him and the goal line. And even though he was mighty spotty when it came to knowing the intricacies of the Falcons sophisticated playbook that was supposed to neutralize the disadvantage of having undersized linemen.
So this is by no means a fair and balanced essay.
I tried to write a short story a couple of years ago about the rap world. What I ended up with was a terrible excuse for a story. I could never really get a handle on the inner turmoil that pulls the immense amount of anger to the surface that you see in the faces of rappers, the same anger and attitude that you often notice in the faces of a distinct minority of high profile professional athletes.
It wasn't as though I didn't do the research. It wasn't as though I didn't hang out in the hood and some of the clubs when I could to see for myself what went down. I even asked people I knew who were close to "the industry" to try to clue me in to the "how" behind the postures, behind the stares. I am still looking, even to this day, for the "why" - not the Daniel Moynihan type of text book, reductionist "why this happens" one dimensional answer, but the "why they choose this way of living" multifaceted reasons, ones that are likely to be contradictory and surprising.
If you read my piece on Plaxico Burress last year - When Do Rags Do Wrong - you know that I try my damndest to see the good things in these young black men that we were quick to turn into celebrity icons back when they were still just overgrown teenagers trying to man up.
Because for every Mike Tyson, for every Rae Curruth, for every Pacman Jones, there are the other nine out of ten pro athletes, many of them from similar backgrounds as Tyson and Carruth and Jones, who are a credit to their teams, their fans and their families. These guys had to choose to go against the tide of common sense. They had to choose to resist the kind of good advice that seems to find rich people even when they try to hide from it.
But back to this vigilante justice and Vick, which as it begins to get revved up again, now that Mr. Vick is free, is beginning to remind me more and more of the old mob rule images that pop into my mind whenever the established punishments are not harsh enough to assuage our feelings.
Would armed robbery have struck the sanctimonious differently, if Vick had tried to play John Dillinger? If Vick were a drug kingpin, would this matter as much to these self appointed arbiters of righteousness?
I hope Vick learned a lot about himself during his stay in prison. I hope he has learned how deep the affections of dog lovers run for their pets, and the pets of others. And I hope he gets to play ball again, more for our sake than his.
Christianity, which seems to count an awful lot of my fellow Americans, including a fair number of sports fans and dog lovers, among its practicing membership, is based on the concept of redemption. No matter how bad you screw up, you can be forgiven.
Absolved of your sins.
And America is based on second acts, reincarnations - if we don't believe in anything else we believe in rehabilitation. "Heel thy sick", if my Vacation Bible School memories serve me correctly, is a fairly accurate quote that seems to be sprinkled liberally throughout the Good Book.
The larger philosophical question the furor over Michael Vick's future brings to mind is whether or not we are the real Christians we say we are. Whether or not we really believe in the rehabilitative aspects of our criminal justice system, or should simply let all transgressors rot in their jail cells because they are forever fatally flawed, unable to ever fully redeem themselves even after serving their proscribed sentence.
"Heal thy Vick".