Can someone with an ugly history of animal abuse be redeemed? That’s the question that constantly surrounds Michael Vick, the NFL star who pleaded guilty to involvement in a dogfighting ring in 2007.
The debate has resurfaced recently now that the retired quarterback has received an honorary position by the NFL. While some fans argue that Vick has paid his time and atoned for his crimes, others contend that those crimes were so inhumane that he doesn’t deserve the recognition.
Vick became one of the league’s star quarterbacks after getting signed by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001 as the first overall draft pick.
But in 2007, Vick’s reputation was forever tainted after an investigation revealed his involvement with a dogfighting ring known as “Bad Newz Kennels.” Over 70 pit bulls used for fighting were rescued from Vick’s property, many of which were found with injuries.
The grizzly details of the story shocked fans and the world at large. In addition to bankrolling and using his property for the ring, Vick was accused of direct involvement with the execution of underperforming dogs, including by drowning and hanging.
He was convicted of federal offense conspiracy charges and was sentenced to 23 months in prison.
But while his reputation was permanently damaged and he lost sponsorship deals, Vick returned to the NFL after serving his time. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 and continued playing until his retirement in 2017.
At the same time Vick has tried to rehabilitate his image and to atone by working with animal groups like the Humane Society of the United States.
“I just try to make it right after going through what I went through, after what transpired,” Vick told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2015. “The best thing to do was make amends for what I did. I can’t take it back.”
Vick lobbied for Pennsylvania’s “pets in cars bill” that gives police the right to rescue animals from unsafe vehicles, and for the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which makes attending dogfighting or bringing a minor to attend a federal crime.
“The only thing I can do is influence the masses of kids from going down the same road I went down,” Vick said. “That’s why I work with the Humane Society and affecting a lot of kids’ lives and saving a lot of animals.”
But many haven’t forgiven Vick for his crimes, contending that his later good deeds can’t undo the damage he caused to dozens of animals, and that even if he’s served his time, he shouldn’t be allowed to be rehabilitated as a sports hero.
The debate around Vick resurfaced recently after he was named as an honorary captain for the NFL Pro Bowl. Hundreds of thousands have signed online petitions trying to get him removed from the position, saying he doesn’t deserve the honor.
“When is the NFL going to take any responsibility for the behavior of its current and former players?” a petition with nearly 500,000 signatures reads. “To honor a man who had zero regard for animals is unacceptable.”
One of the most compelling arguments against Vick came from Heidi Dutton, who sponsored one of Vick’s fighting dogs named Lucas and saw the deep psychological scars he was left with. While Vick received 23 months, the dog had a lifelong sentence.
“Lucas bore deep scars both physically and emotionally,” a viral Facebook post reads. “Never to be allowed in a real home with a loving family, because of what Vick trained him to become.”
“I know nothing of Michael Vick’s football career. I don’t care if he can throw or catch a ball while running 10 or 20 yards,” Dutton wrote. “I’m more interested in something more important. Like his character as a human being.”
She recounts the brutal ways Vick and his associates executed their dogs, and writes that Lucas ultimately died of a disease contracted from other fighters: “He didn’t ask for the life that was forced upon him. He didn’t deserve the scars he wore on his face & body.”
Despite growing outrage over Vick’s position as honorary coach, the NFL has not changed their position. Players and commentators have come to Vick’s defense, arguing that did his time and should be able to move forward.
It’s one of the most high-profile cases of animal cruelty in history, and Vick’s return to the spotlight raises complex question about whether or not, and to what extent, convicted abusers can be forgiven by society.
But most of all, it’s a reminder of the real and permanent damage animal fighting has on its victims.
What do you think of this story? Should Vick be removed from the Pro Bowl or has he paid his dues to society?
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