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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

In sports, performance doesn’t always have to trump character

Mike Vick: dog owner

Michael Vick is the most divisive NFL player of all time. Before going to prison, Vick ran a dog fighting ring and killed underperforming dogs by hanging them, electrocuting them or drowning them. He is also the fastest player to ever play quarterback in the NFL, holds multiple NFL records and will be a Hall of Famer. But the nature of forgiveness is divisive in itself. Deciding when or what to forgive is extremely hard in any situation, and it is getting harder every day.

In 2007, I remember my grandfather reading from the newspaper that the Atlanta Falcons quarterback had been sentenced to three years in prison for illegally fighting and killing dogs — the thought of it terrified me. Little did I know, it was that Falcons quarterback who would be the reason I’m now a fan of the sport. I was a casual NFL fan before, but I wasn’t really a fan of the sport until Vick re-revolutionized the league in 2009 and 2010. That’s why this issue is a difficult one for me. With all of the terrible things that he did in his past, Vick is still my favorite player of all time –– for reasons I can’t entirely explain. 

After spending 18 months in prison, Michael Vick emerged with a second chance. Vick has worked with the Humane Society to advocate across the country. Visiting schools across the country and in Newport News, Virginia (where his Bad Newz Kennels took place), Vick speaks about the dangers of being involved with dogfighting. After being signed by the Eagles in 2009, President Obama even called Eagles’ owner Jeffery Lurie to thank him for giving Vick a second chance. 

But many believe Vick should still be punished for his actions. Coming out of prison a changed man is not enough for them, as if the rehabilitation of his character and past actions wasn’t the intended goal of sending him to prison. Perhaps many believe that coming back from prison just to make millions of dollars on the football field is not any kind of punishment. But it is important to know that, because of his imprisonment, Vick was forced to file for bankruptcy. Instead of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which would have excused most of his debts, Vick filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, requiring him to pay all $18 million in debt back to his creditors.  

Philadelphia sportswriter Buzz Bissinger wrote about Vick’s return, saying, “The truth of sports is that performance always trumps character. The truth of sports is that performance always excuses character.” But I don’t think that’s true. That’s not why Michael Vick has been forgiven and given second chances by so many. To me, his character is completely in line with the greatest people to ever play the game, and that is what makes him easier to forgive. People forgive him because he is the ultimate example that despite our worst actions and mistakes, we are all capable of becoming better people. 

Following his probation — during which Vick was not allowed to own a dog — Vick and his family finally became dog owners again. “I understand the strong emotions by some people about our family’s decision to care for a pet,” Vick said. “As a father, it is important to make sure my children develop a healthy relationship with animals. I want to ensure that my children establish a loving bond and treat all of God’s creatures with kindness and respect. Our pet is well cared for and loved as a member of our family.” 

Many of the controversial figures caught up in cultural movements of our day have not paid the appropriate price. And some may never pay it, but Vick did, and it allowed him to come back better than ever, both on and off the football field. 

With all of this being said, it is still unfathomable to many people that Vick was given a second chance after running a dog fighting ring. Yet, Colin Kaepernick is still blacklisted by the league for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and the killing of innocent Americans. Somehow, the league is more comfortable forgiving the killing of dogs than they are an athlete kneeling during a song. 

As proud as I am that Jeffery Lurie and the NFL gave Vick another chance, I am equally ashamed that Kaepernick has not. 

Exposed and humiliated to the world, Michael Vick transformed into the best version of himself. His comeback story gives us hope that people can change — it gives us something to believe in. No matter what our mistakes are, we can climb back to the top.

Written by: Calvin Coffee — cscoffee@ucdavis.edu 


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