Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Devil's Advocacy for Michael Vick

There are at least two sides to every argument.

That's something that often gets lost when people debate emotional topics and Michael Vick's incarceration for dog-fighting is one of those. By that, I don't mean to imply Kristin Hamlin did so recently in her excellent article.

Quite the contrary. In my opinion, she takes a strong but fair stance and defends it well.

But I wanted to play devil's advocate - partly because I agree with it to an extent and partly because I haven't read this particular version before and I think it's an interesting argument.

Vick received a death sentence of sorts while his dogs did not. That was not and is not justice.

Michael Vick's football career is over. He may be allowed back in the National Football League and some wayward owner may give him another chance (Jerry Jones is probably working on his early release as I type), but his career is over. He will not return to his former glory, which was not that exalted before his foray into extreme sports landed him in the hoosegow. Who knows what repercussions that will have on the trajectory of his life's remnants.

It certainly hasn't done wonders for his younger brother, Marcus. Or Maurice Clarett. Or Mike Tyson.

Meanwhile, the vicious killers he created were spared the rod. And that was the right thing to do.

Vick and his cohorts had turned those pitbulls into savage machines. They were not born that way. This was not a questionable case of nature versus nurture. Those dogs were canines like any other until their human owners deliberately trained them to do lethal damage without discretion or mercy. It was not their fault and each deserved a chance to prove its capacity for normative behavior.

I'll say it again, trying to rehabilitate those pitbulls was the equitable and righteous path. That almost every single dog successfully recovered proves it.

Michael Vick deserved the same.

He was a human pitbull, shaped by ferocity from the jump.

Vick was born in Newport News, Virginia. Apparently, this place is and was so criminally vicious that it has its own notorious moniker in hip/hop culture, Bad Newz (the 'z' proves it's legit). I've never been, but I can't imagine gentility and compassion are considered effective survival tools.

Consider the neighborhood in which he was raised. Consider the value system you would acquire cutting your teeth in such confines. Consider the daily shootings. The orgy of violence produced by rival gangs warring over turf and drug profits. The prostitution and other marginalization of humanity.

What regard would you have for human life? Forget about a dog.

What chance do your parents or other responsible influences have against such odds? Consider they're working long hours at four jobs just to put food on the table before they can even begin to turn back the tide. Consider that, despite the supernatural aura of violence, you are still apt to be as rebellious as any adolescent when it comes to parental (and/or responsible) advice.

Sure, Vick was an adult for a good part of his dog-fighting days and an average American adult would have to be disturbed or incredibly stupid to risk so much on so little.

But Michael Vick was not an average American adult. From his brutal roots, he matured into the seeds of greatness by excelling at a game predicated on violence. Human violence.

A game that routinely sees broken bones (did anyone else see that poor Houston receiver?), torn ligaments (again, see Houston receiver), and brain-damaging concussions. It has seen its share of paralysis and even death. Human death.

Again, what regard would you have for human life? Forget about a dog.

More so, how much can we reasonably expect you to have when your considerable success is a direct function of perfecting your role in such a cruel sport.

Some may say his role as an offensive player and quarterback diminish this defense. That he was on the receiving end of the brutality so honing his role had nothing to do with nurturing his violent tendencies.

But Vick was the target of that brutality, which means perfecting his role included developing an immunity to the prospect of savagery. It meant learning to live with the brutality. It would also make a desire for an outlet, in which he could dish it out and exact some measure of revenge, logical. Twisted and perverse, but logical within that framework.

And if you think prison is going to change any of the above, you aren't familiar with the United States' correctional system.

I am not saying any of this completely absolves Michael Vick or excuses him from punishment.

In fact, I would adamantly argue that one of the truest tests of an individual's character is the manner with which he or she handles the most defenseless and vulnerable forms of life.

Michael Vick's failure in this regard was astonishing in both scope and magnitude.

Regardless of his upbringing, he was an adult and had walked amongst civilized society for long enough to learn its nuances and its consequences. To appreciate and respect those forms of life we have deemed worthy of both.

Additionally, the analogy between his dogs and Vick with which I began is a little false. The dogs never had a choice whereas he made many informed and very poor decisions along the way.

No, Michael Vick certainly deserved some measure of penalty. The sheer stupidity alone merits that much.

But the degree of severity is what I'm uncomfortable with.

To some extent, whether you believe it to be significant or not, we are Michael Vick's trainers. We continued to reward him for developing an personality born of violence and nurtured by it.

And when we got caught, we put our dog down while sparing his. And ourselves.

That is not justice.

No comments: