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The conversation: Michael Vick's redemption

January 4, 2011 |  1:00 pm

Michael Vick2

In Tuesday's L.A. Times, columnist (and dog lover) Sandy Banks argues that Michael Vick should get a dog. She says it'd make him human. Is that like saying a child molester should have a child? "I guess that depends on how you see Vick: Is he a brutal sociopath, seized by uncontrollable urges? Or is he Ookie from the 'hood, playing dogfight like it was a video game?" she asks, before painting a more sympathetic picture of Vick than we’re used to. Then, her closing argument:

Did he ever look into the eyes of Jane or Big Boy or Tiny or Too Short -- the pit bulls who won him money and made his life "exciting." Did he ever toss the ball and let them bring it back or play tug-of-war with a rope toy and a dog who wouldn't get smacked for letting go?

That's why Vick should not only be allowed, but ordered, to get a dog when his probation is up. Not just because his daughters want one, or it will help his rehabilitation progress. And not just so that he will learn what words like 'love' and 'care for' really mean the first time the puppy pee-pees on his very expensive antique rug.

Michael Vick needs to get a dog because he needs a link to tenderness, not just a reminder of his toughness. He needs to understand what it means to earn the trust of an animal, and why his violations hurt us so much.

It's not about showing people you've changed, Michael. It's about actually changing. And after the Pro Bowl has been played and the season is done, watching late night replays with a puppy who is not counting your fumbles and interceptions might feel like a very good thing.

Since President Obama's unofficial pardon of Michael Vick last week, opinionators have been weighing on the convicted dogfighter's redemption. Op-Ed columnist Michael Gerson of the Washington Post wrote that Vick has become a symbol of the second chance:

Preventing crime and reducing recidivism are among the most difficult social policy challenges. Gains come slowly and tend to be incremental. But such efforts are also the practical demonstration of a defining national principle: While human beings are capable of great horrors that merit justice, they do not become trash to be thrown away. Even the least sympathetic -- heroin addicts and jailed criminals and gang members -- remain part of the American community, the human community. And their very lack of sympathy tests our commitment to that ideal.

Janet Langhart Cohen echoed that opinion. Writing on the Huffington Post, the co-founder of Race and Reconciliation In America had this to say about second chances:

As Americans, we can no longer passively accept the persistence of a racialized system of justice, not if we intend to continue to trumpet our dedication to due process and equal treatment under the law. President Obama has performed a much-needed public service in endorsing Michael Vick having the chance, once again, to play professional football. My hope is that his next call will be to the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, urging them to review and repeal the laws that trap millions of people into penal colonies from which there is no exit nor second chances.

Dave Zirin, sports editor for the Nation, continues in this vein as he expresses outrage over Tucker Carlson's recent remarks that Vick should have been executed. (Carlson has since recanted, but Zirin's argument remains as compelling.)

Michael Vick, whether he likes it or not, is humanizing the struggle to find redemption after serving time in a maximum security prison. After all, if a star quarterback doing hours of community service can't regain a foothold in society, who could? Tucker Carlson's efforts to dehumanize Vick and paint him as a disposable, killable individual, cuts in a way that transcends the idiocy of Murdoch's 50 state southern strategy of dimples and dog whistles. I'd love for Carlson to spend even a week in Leavenworth and then make an effort to rebuild his nerfy little life. Then we'd see how a man without callouses could be so callous. This is why Michael Vick's story matters, and really another example -- as if more were needed -- of how Fox News has become a cancerous boil on the political soul of this country.

Whether Vick can fully redeem himself in the court of public opinion is another story. Writes our op-ed columnist Meghan Daum:

Though Vick has made a great comeback on the field, his name is still synonymous with the gruesome details surrounding the torture and killing of dozens of pit bulls in his underground operation, Bad Newz Kennels. These days, he's also known for making a rather strenuous-seeming effort to save his image. Last year, amid great controversy, Vick teamed up with the Humane Society in an anti-dog-fighting campaign, and he regularly talks to schoolchildren about how to treat animals humanely.

Whether or not Vick is sincere -- and like any outside observer, I can't presume to know -- I'd bet most people won't be able to look past his crimes any time soon. That's because as much as we love redemption stories, particularly those involving celebrities, a lot of us love animals even more, sometimes to a degree that defies rationality.

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-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: In this Nov. 21, 2010 file photo, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick smiles as he leaves the field after a game against the New York Giants in Philadelphia. Credit: Matt Slocum / Associated Press

 

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