Editor’s Note: I’m not trying to say that a person imprisoned for a felony should never be allowed to play professional sports after he’s served his sentence; however, just because a lowlife like Michael Vick is allowed to play is no reason to make him out to be a saint for playing well. I’ve heard all manner of excuses for Vick’s behavior, including the most-offensive explanation — that the popularity of dog fighting is a “cultural difference” within the black community. Not only is this one of those ridiculous “multicultural” excuses — like saying “honor killings” in the Pakistani Muslim community are just a cultural anomaly —  it’s offensive to all those decent, kindhearted black people who don’t get their kicks tormenting defenseless dogs and then betting on their suffering.

For Celebrities, Forgiveness Comes Too Easily

“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”

— Andy Rooney

When Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick limped off the field following an especially vicious sack by several Green Bay Packers, I smiled at my little dog. Actually, I was hoping Vick would be unable to walk off under his own power. Does thinking that make me a bad person?

Those familiar with animal cruelty and/or football know that, in 2007, Vick was convicted of running a dog-fighting ring. He didn’t do it for the money — he was already a millionaire — he did it for fun and entertainment. You don’t have to be a card-carrying member of PETA to consider him a sadist and vile human being.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American life. But if you’re good at something that makes lots of money, there are always second chances, which is why, this season, the football pundits have swooned over Vick’s “redemption.”

Should Vick have been banned from football after he’d served his prison term? No. It was wrong when the sports establishment denied Muhammad Ali the right to make a living back in the sixties, and it would be nearly as wrong in Vick’s case. Like any ex-con who’s paid his debt to society, he has the right to resume his career.

In 2000, facing a murder indictment, linebacker Ray Lewis pled down to obstructing a murder investigation. In 2003, he was the Super Bowl MVP, and all was forgiven. Regardless of what sort of thug you are, if you can play the game, some team will employ you. Does anyone doubt that, if Rae Carruth — imprisoned for conspiracy to murder his pregnant girlfriend — showed he could still catch touchdown passes, an NFL team would pick him up? Someday, a paroled child molester could be quarterbacking an NFL team.

Market forces determine these things; however, just because Vick is allowed to play football doesn’t mean we have to cheer him on while he does it. (That’s why professional wrestling has heroes and villains.) His fans, including just about every ex-jock on CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN, claim he’s a new man who’s saying all the right things — i.e., he’s been redeemed. Somehow, his improvement as a player has influenced the sports world’s perception of him as a person.

Has Vick been rehabilitated into a decent human being? I’m no mind reader, but, given his disgusting past, I’m willing to deny him the benefit of the doubt. He didn’t just kill the dogs under his “care,” which could have been done humanely; they were strangled, electrocuted and drowned. This may sound trivial to non-dog people, but serial killers generally start out torturing animals.

Keep in mind Vick didn’t give up dog fighting on his own. If he hadn’t been caught, there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t still be tormenting innocent animals. And is it realistic to believe prison life has made him a kinder, gentler person?

As the sportscasters constantly remind us, much of Vick’s redemption involves “saying the right things,” which doesn’t set the bar very high. If he wants to become a millionaire again — and I suspect that beats working at WalMart — he also has to stay out of the dog-murdering business (or at least not get caught at it) and generally stay out of trouble.

He’s barely managed even that. At his 30th birthday party last June, Vick’s dog-fighting partner/co-defendant was shot at 2:00 a.m. Vick testified that this happened 20 minutes after he left the party, but the nightclub’s surveillance tapes contradicted his deposition. Regardless, I’ve had nearly twice as many birthdays, and none involved gunfire.

Sports fans are the market forces that decide what makes someone too vile to root for. And we choose whether to support teams that employ reprehensible lowlifes on their rosters. With all the good people in the NFL, why did President Obama go out of his way to express support for Vick? If he wanted to root for a quarterback, why not Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, both of whom have no history of torturing dogs?

I reach for the remote whenever I hear football analysts conflate Vick’s improved pass completion percentage with his redemption as a person. Former basketball star Charles Barkley famously and correctly observed that athletes shouldn’t be held up as role models. With any celebrity, from Phil Spector to Mel Gibson, it’s a good idea to separate their talents from their failings as people.

As a dog owner, I’m revolted at the sainthood being conferred on Vick by the sports cognoscenti. Having lived with two or more dogs for the past 12 years, I’ve come to realize that they’re better than people. Most dog owners would probably agree, even if they won’t say so out loud.

When Vick’s final pass of the season was intercepted in the Packers’ end zone, I smiled at my little dog. But we’ll have to wait until next year for that career-ending injury. Does thinking that make me a bad person? Too bad.

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