Michael Vick doesn't deserve my forgiveness, and he ain't getting it

A column published in the Chicago Tribune Dec. 12 entitled “Michael Vick Deserves Our Forgiveness” prompted me to dig out a post I wrote over two years ago, when Vick was being considered as a sportscaster for Fox Sports. It was titled “What Michael Vick Really Did.”

The signing of a petition by 740,000 people objecting to the NFL’s naming Vick a host of the upcoming Pro Bowl moved Tribune columnist Steve Chapman to pen a column making an appeal on Vick’s behalf. I wonder if Chapman, and other defenders of Vick, have read The Lost Dogs by Jim Gorant, the book I talked about in my old post.

Setting aside the reprehensible things Vick did for a moment (which are not in dispute by the way), it never ceases to mystify me that members of the press feel compelled to jump to this guy’s defense, Chapman not being the only one in recent memory. Certainly there are worthier causes than Vick, a nothing-special ex-football player who never won a Super Bowl or achieved anything remarkable on the football field, to my knowledge. It would be one thing if he had the talent of a Tom Brady or Randy Moss. If it hadn’t been for the dogfighting thing, Michael Vick would not be a household name.

Chapman’s column justified his support of Vick by citing the example of Wayne Pacelle, disgraced former president of the Humane Society of the U.S., who supported Vick’s return to the NFL after he completed his prison sentence for dogfighting in 2009. Pacelle was motivated by a desire to use Vick as a public spokesman in the HSUS’s campaign against animal fighting. Like Chapman, I respect and applaud Pacelle’s many accomplishments for animals. But that doesn’t require me to agree with him.

At the time, I actually did agree with him. When I first learned that the NFL was going to let Vick play again, I objected to the idea. But when I heard Wayne Pacelle was down with it, someone I admired so much, I figured it must be okay. Then I read The Lost Dogs.

As I explain in the post re-published below, there is a lot that was not reported in the news media at the time. Contrary to what Chapman says, Vick did far more than just bankroll a dogfighting ring and keep the dogs on his property. It strikes me that defenders of Vick always sing the same refrain: "He paid for his crimes." Therefore, it’s implied, he should be treated by the rest of us as if those crimes never happened.

First, whether he really “paid” for his crimes is very subjective and up for debate. He served a little over a year in a cushy federal prison. As the book explains, Vick only very slowly and reluctantly returned his NFL signing bonus and paid the court-ordered fines. Federal prosecutors had to aggressively pursue him to pay those fines, which were used to help rehabilitate the surviving Bad Newz Kennel dogs.

If he were truly rehabilitated and remorseful over what he did—which Pacelle, Chapman, and others keep telling us—why was he not forthcoming with the money? I believe, as do many other people, the reason is that Vick’s entire “redemption” was fake and self-serving. He knew that he needed to rehabilitate his image to play pro football again and that reaching out to Pacelle was a way of accomplishing that. I’ve always been convinced that Vick is sorry he got caught, above anything. His demeanor has always seemed cold, remorseless and cocky to me.

Michael Vick was incredibly lucky he got a second chance to return to the NFL and play pro football again at all. He got to collect his fat salary and retire. He “deserves” nothing else. He doesn’t deserve special accolades or honors or assignments befitting other NFL veterans. These days, just the whisper of domestic abuse or sexual assault involving a player, or a perceived anti-gay slur or racial slur, is enough to get any player dropped like a hot potato from any professional sport, not just football. There are no second chances.

And Vick certainly doesn’t deserve anybody’s “forgiveness.” That headline bothered me more than the column itself. If Chapman chooses to forgive him that’s his business, but leave me out of it. I will not forgive. There’s a reason that three quarters of a million people have signed a petition objecting to the NFL giving Vick special favors.

Before Steve Chapman or anyone else forgives Vick, they should educate themselves on exactly what Vick did. Everything he did. So they know what it is they are forgiving.

Following is my post as it appeared September 5, 2017:

What New Fox Sports Analyst Michael Vick Really Did

Fox Sports announced August 27 that it has hired former NFL quarterback Michael Vick as a studio analyst for its NFL Kickoff program that immediately precedes NFL Sunday on the Fox network.

The news release announcing the hire was hilarious in the way it avoided the elephant in the room; namely, Vick’s 2007 felony conviction for operating an illegal dog-fighting ring and subsequent year-and-a-half stint in federal prison.

As mostly everyone knows, Vick was a successful quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons when law enforcement authorities discovered he was operating the Bad Newz Kennels dog-fighting enterprise out of his Virginia estate, run by a relative of Vick’s and several friends. Here was a millionaire NFL player who could have spent his off-the-field time doing any number of extracurricular activities, and he chose that.

Upon Vick’s release from federal prison in 2009, he returned to the NFL and was picked up by the Pittsburgh Steelers. At the time, many expressed objection to this, but Humane Society of the U.S. President Wayne Pacelle, who wanted to partner with Vick on an anti-dogfighting outreach effort, openly supported his supposed public rehabilitation and return to professional football.

It was Pacelle’s involvement that convinced me it was okay. Like a lot of people at the time, although I despised what Vick had done I thought his punishment had been more or less appropriate for his offenses. He had been dropped from the NFL, gone to prison (for racketeering, not animal cruelty), been ordered to pay several million dollars in restitution for rehabilitation of his fighting dogs, and return his NFL signing bonus, among other things.

But that was before I had read Vick’s federal indictment, and more importantly, before I read “The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption” by Sports Illustrated writer Jim Gorant, which was published in 2011.

I urge everyone who thinks they know what really happened, or maybe doesn’t even care, to read this book. It’s very hard to read but it’s eye opening. It chronicles the investigation and prosecution of Vick and his cohorts (even bringing him up on charges was a monumental effort on the part of several dedicated lawmen), and the long road to rehabilitation and recovery for the former fighting dogs who survived the nightmare. Some ended up making it, some didn’t.

You will learn things that were not reported in the mainstream media and which the general public still doesn’t know. Based on what was reported, most people think that Vick bankrolled and hosted a dogfighting ring on his property, maybe had some vague involvement with killing the “losing” dogs, but generally had a hands-off relationship with the day-to-day running of Bad Newz Kennels and the brutality it inflicted on the fighting dogs.

The real truth is far worse.

Not only was Vick intimately involved with running Bad Newz Kennels and its day-to-day activities, when his co-defendants would suggest giving away losing or underperforming dogs, it was Vick who insisted they be killed instead. In the most brutal ways imaginable.

Hanging, electrocution, drowning by submerging their heads in buckets of water. And worse. Often carried out by Vick himself.

It was what happened to the dog identified in the book as “the little red dog” that traumatized me and will haunt me forever.

The female dog had performed poorly in a test fight against another dog. Afterward, they tried hanging her but that failed to kill her. So Vick and another guy, one taking hold of her front legs and the other taking her back legs, raised her like a jump rope over their heads and killed her by repeatedly slamming her into the ground.

The news media won’t ever tell you this.

The argument I hear over and over in defense of Vick, which was repeated often when he first returned to the NFL after getting out of prison, is that “he did his time” and “he paid for his crime” so everyone should be okay with him being welcomed back with open arms. This is all viewed by many people, and especially the news media, as yesterday's news.

But here’s another thing most of the public doesn’t know: That restitution money that he was ordered by the court to pay to rehabilitate the dogs, he didn’t even pay it until he was forced to. The government had to aggressively pursue payment. Which leads one to believe that Vick was not terribly contrite.

I’m not a psychiatric authority, but Michael Vick has always struck me as the definition of a sociopath. I never once got the feeling, in watching his post-prison interviews, that here was someone who was genuinely remorseful for what he did. It always seemed to me he was sorry he got caught.

Because the criminal justice system is finished dealing with him does not mean he deserves a TV job. His football career was pretty average, he never went to a Super Bowl or achieved anything very remarkable on the football field, and surely there are former NFL players with more impressive careers that Fox could put in front of the camera.

Ask other convicted felons how easy it is for them to get a job after being released from prison.

Oh and by the way, if Vick had been convicted of gambling instead of running a dogfighting ring, he would have been permanently banned from the NFL. The NFL is okay with you if you torture and butcher dogs, beat your kid, or beat your wife to an unconscious pulp, but don’t dare gamble. And don't, God forbid, be Colin Kaepernick.

If you’ve read up to this point and you’re still okay with Fox Sports hiring Michael Vick as an on-air analyst, I guess just do nothing.

But if you’re not okay with it, this online petition on Change.org addressed to the head of Fox Sports so far has almost 80,000 signatures.

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