Michael Vick — what are the boundaries of forgiveness and redemption?


How to feel about Michael Vick? Has there been anyone in sports like him? Maybe Mike Tyson. But, Tyson was a freak show to most of us. People watched him to see if he would self-destruct.

Michael Vick? A tough one.

How do you feel about him?

I’ve been blown away at some of the games he’s played this year. He was not that good of a quarterback before. He really wasn’t. He was a guy with an amazing amount of talent who was actually a fairly shitty quarterback. He’d make a half-dozen jaw dropping top-of-the-highlights kind of plays a year, surrounded by stats like 15 TDs, 15 INTs and 55 percent completion percentage.

Not anymore. Other than Tom Brady, he is the most dominant quarterback in the NFL.

I’ve been struck by the wide variety of reactions to Michael Vick. I know two hard-core Eagles fans who refuse to cheer for the Eagles as long as he plays for them. They both own dogs. We sat at a table the other night with a group of lesbian Eagles fans watching Philly lose to the Vikings, and their reactions were interesting. They didn’t like Vick, but they wanted him to play well.


As a bigtime Red Sox fan, I can relate. I despised — I mean, really despised that born-again Christian right-winger Curt Schilling. Couldn’t wait to preach about Jesus as soon as a mike was thrown in his face. Campaigned for all kinds of right-wingers like McCain and Sarah Palin. Still thinks Palin is God’s gift to America. Trust me, if she runs in 2012, Schilling will be on the campaign trail for her. I acknowledge most athletes are Republicans, but this guy just rubbed everyone’s faces in his neanderthal politics and religious bullshit.

Still, I cheered for him when he took the mound.

I came to hate Manny Ramirez. Represents everything wrong with professional sports. Steroids user, overpaid, lazy, maligner, faked injuries (couldn’t remember which knee he hurt), then pouted because he was “only” making $20 million a year.

Still, I cheered for him when he came to bat.

It’s a complicated thing. It’s easy now for me to hate that pompous prick Schilling and that idiot Ramirez (no, not THAT one). But when they played for the Sox, I found myself cheering for them — for the team — for the win. I’m glad I don’t have to face that conflict, anymore, though I kind of don’t like Papelbon.
In talking to people about Vick the reactions I’ve seen are:

* They were just dogs. It’s not like he killed a guy.

* He did his time.

* He should never be allowed to play football again.

I just about blow my top at that first reaction. I’ve heard from a few, but not many.

Yes, he didn’t kill a guy. But, he did torture and murder dogs — many, many dogs — for fun and profit. He didn’t just “make a mistake,” like get a DUI or get in a drunken brawl in a bar that got out of hand. This was something he did for two-plus years, knowingly. It was sick, cruel, even psychotic.

Should he be allowed to play football again? My take on it, is what he did was bad. Really bad. But, he was convicted, and he got sentenced to time — real time in a real prison. 18 months in Leavenworth, not a day care camp. That’s Leavenworth.

So, I guess my personal attitude is, he did his time. Maybe he should have got more than 18 months. But, 18 months is what the system decided he deserved. He lost millions of dollars in salary and endorsements.

He paid a debt. Was it big enough? That’s up for everyone to decide for themselves.

My attitude is, like any other ex-con, he has a right to move on with his life, and make a living. He is a high-profile ex-con in a high-profile job, but I don’t see him as any different than a guy who did a couple of years in the state pen for armed robbery. Maybe sitting in a prison cell for 18 months in Leavenworth woke him up. I have to believe that more than a few times in his cell, he thought to himself, “Man, did I ever fuck up…”

You don’t have to like Vick, and if you don’t, more power to you. I don’t blame people for hating him. I don’t blame people who don’t want to see him playing football. I guess I just don’t completely agree. Cheer against him. Hope he loses. But let him play. I’m conflicted myself. I’m amazed at how good of a player he has turned into. I’m amazed at some of the plays he makes. But, Jesus, did he ever do some bad things.


There was a guy at the University of Montana this past year. He really did kill a guy. He got into a spat with his aunt’s boyfriend and went over to his house with a loaded rifle and shot the guy to death because he was pissed the boyfriend was beating up his aunt. Then he and a buddy drove back to Montana and didn’t bother telling anyone what happened.

The guy spent two or three years in jail. His first trial for murder ended in a hung jury. He was acquitted by a second jury, because frankly, there were no witnesses. He claimed it was self-defence and there wasn’t much evidence to the contrary. So, he came back to Montana and played his senior year there. It was kind of weird. This guy really, actually killed a guy. A douchebag, but he committed a homicide nonetheless. Maybe losing two or three of his life for killing an abusive douchebag was punishment enough. Maybe it was self-defence, maybe not. No one knows but him … and the dead guy.

People still cheered for him.

You know what? People in Pittsburgh still cheer for Roethlisberger. He got away with rape. (I’m convinced of it, personally.) That bothers me. I really believe he got away with committing a crime.

Giants fans (and only Giants fans) cheered for Bonds. I didn’t get that, honestly. The guy was an unrepentent cheat. He probably committed perjury (though I suspect he’ll never be convicted.).

There is something to be said about the power of forgiveness; the power of redemption. Literature is chock full of stories of redemption, going all the way back to Mary Magdalene. Vick, because of the horridness of his acts, pushes those boundaries of forgiveness, and frankly has much to atone for; the bar is quite high for any kind of redemption, in my book.

Perhaps because he is so talented, and is so exciting to watch play on TV, people are quicker to forgive. Would they be so quick to forgive if he were a lowly janitor? I don’t know. I can imagine how people would shun him.

I guess when you really want your team to win, many of us will cheer for just about anyone.

At least Vick did his time.

That’s my only point.

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