Michael Vick was once a star quarterback for NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Then it was discovered that he was secretly in the illegal dog-fighting business, breaking the law and being brutally cruel to dogs in the process. This lost him his job, his contract, his freedom, and many millions of dollars. Now he’s a star quarterback again, leading the Philadelphia Eagles. Last Monday night, he had what some have called the best game any quarterback has had in the NFL in forty years. Many are celebrating his return to stardom as an inspiring example of rehabilitation and redemption. After all, he’s a hero again.
Not to me, he isn’t.
It well may be that Michael Vick is a changed man, but the jury is out on that; it’s just taking longer to get a verdict than it did for his dog-fighting charges. There is absolutely no nexus between Vick’s resurgence on the football field and his character. We know not one smidgen more about the extent to which he has changed, if at all, because he has a terrific yards-per pass average. Would anyone be talking about Vick’s redemption if he was stinking up the stadium. throwing interceptions left and right? Why not? Do animal torturers make worse football players than reformed, “All God’s creatures are to be respected and treasured” ex-dog fighters? Clearly not: Vick was still pretty good at the game back when he was secretly hanging and electrocuting his “pets.”
The degree to which fans and the press allow on-field performance to mitigate off field atrocities is remarkable. Vikings quaterback Bret Favre is a pariah now, because he sexually harassed a reporter and can’t play very well any more. But to my knowledge, he never tortured a pitbull. I’d still rather shake his hand than Michael Vick’s.
I know Vick has “paid his debt to society.” So did Nathan Leopold. I wouldn’t have trusted Leopold with my son, just as I wouldn’t trust Michael Vick with my dog. Leopold was brilliant; Vick can really throw a football. Neither ability tells me anything about their character or whether they deserved or deserve trust and forgiveness. Vick has done charity work and public penance: meaningless. They were the only way for him to have any chance at more million dollar paydays. He could be killing puppies in his dreams, and he would do the exact same thing, which was probably charted out and written down in advance by an image consultant. This isn’t sacrifice, and we have no way of knowing whether it is true contrition, because it is so, so profitable. If Michael Vick had voluntarily forsworn athletic celebrity and professional sports to devote his life to rescuing and caring for abused dogs, that would have convinced me. That would be a true story of redemption. Vick’s current story is about a guy who was able to shake off the rust after a prison term, and showed he can still play. A sports comeback, nothing more.
Vick says the right things, but something is off. After his triumph last weekend, he tweeted, “God can turn mistakes into miracles!” Years spent mistreating innocent animals, slaughtering the ones that displease you, and sending them into a ring to tear each other apart for your entertainment isn’t a “mistake.” It isn’t a miscalculation, a bad career move, a blunder or an “Oopsie!” either: it is intentional and depraved conduct that cannot be undone with a prison term or football heroics.
Vick’s success essentially gets him back to the point in his life where he was before the dog-fighting, except, of course, that he now isn’t just Michael Vick, football star, but Michael Vick, football star and proven animal abuser. I’ll wait and see where he goes from here before I accept his redemption, and I don’t mean how many touchdowns he throws.