As soon as I read the lowlights of the indictment last month, I knew that, for my own part, if Vick remained with the Atlanta Falcon this season, I would never watch another Falcons game so long as either Vick played or Arthur Blank owned the team. I'm quite positive that a sizable percentage of Falcons fans felt the same way, such was the rage people felt after reading the charges. Fortunately for Blank, the NFL never game him a choice as to what to do, promptly banning Vick from training camp until it decided what to do next. I'm not so sure that Blank, who a couple years ago signed Vick to a 10-year contract worth $130 million dollars, wouldn't have put aside the city's (and perhaps his own) disgust for their former football star's crimes in favor of recouping a bit more of his wacky, wrongheaded investment.
We knew from the incident at the airport with the weed and the water bottle that Vick was none to bright. Not a particularly damning charge to make against an NFL player. But this? This proves how little we can truly "know" people in public life. Not bright, kind of pompous, but a man who tortures animals to death? Though it might not be to others, it is a surprise to me just how disgusting a guy Michael Vick turned out to be. These charges, which Vick yesterday copped to, make me wonder what happened in Michael Vick's life that made him believe, like the rapist thug Sugar Ray in "L.A. Confidential", that "dogs ain't got no reason to live"? I don't mean to be flip by referencing what was, in context, a funny line from that movie. To the point, I remember when I saw that film and heard that line specifically, I thought to myself, "no one really thinks that." I thought a sensibility like that was just a flourish from the half-phony hard-boiled imagination of James Ellroy. I just couldn't imagine a person could bear such steadfast, unapologetic animus towards, of all animals, dogs. Now I know there are people like that in the world, and, up until a month ago, one of them played QB for the hometown team. What an embarrassment.
Who was it that instilled in him the idea that animals, specifically dogs, are not living things but insensate toys? Did his parents lead him to believe that? Was it more widespread in the culture that Vick came up in? While he was electrocuting, drowning, shooting, and beating pit bulls to death, did Vick understand that their howls and thrashings were more than just the product of synaptic messages sent from the brain into the body of the animal, but were in fact a product of a sentient animal feeling pain? Did he care? I'd ask what pleasure could Vick have possibly derived from making these animals suffer before extinguishing their lives, but I know already. You can see hints of that same glee in the photographs taken of soldiers humiliating detainees at Abu Ghraib, broad smiles and upward-turned thumbs while posing next to a detainee who was tortured to death, or a man quailing in terror from an attack dog. I don't mean to equate humans and animals here; I understand that the degradation and torture of an animal isn't comparable to that of a human, but by the same token, isn't this idea -- that animals are so much "less than" human beings -- what allows the animal-torturer (like Vick) to engage in this sort of behavior in the first place? If animals are, in fact, so much less than human beings, why give them any legal protections at all? Is it a convention of so-called polite society? Is it because "decent people" don't hurt animals? Is dogfighting outlawed because it's the sort of thing that's "just not done"? I don't know.
I think this case is so clear-cut because, at the end of the day, Vick was more than inhumane to these animals, he was cruel. And if there's anything our legal system abhors when it comes to how humans interact with animals, it's cruelty. Andrew Sullivan wrote this about Michael Vick today, and I think he says quite succinctly how a lot of people feel about this matter:
"... it seems obvious to me what is wrong about [what Michael Vick did]. In a word: cruelty. It's a vice we don't talk of much, but it is essentially the aspect of the human psyche that sees a vulnerable person, animal or thing, and exploits that vulnerability with further violence or power. It's evil. It's why I despise torture in every form. It is not just the absence of love or respect; it's the active presence of its opposite. And animals, creatures over which we have near total control or dominion, are more vulnerable to such cruelty than many humans. Vick is an inhumane bully, an exemplum of cruelty and arrogance."
Right now the NFL is deciding what to do with Michael Vick. Obviously, he can't play before or during his inevitable prison sentence, but what to do with him afterwards? My strong preference would be to ban Michael Vick from the NFL for life. I think he's earned that much.