Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Michael Vick: Totally Reformed

If you happened to watch Michael Vick's interview on "60 Minutes" this past Sunday, then you may have been witness to the first stop in the most half-hearted redemption tour ever staged.

As you may remember, in 2007, Michael Vick's Virginia farm was raided. The Feds believed Vick, then the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons as well as the farm's owner, was the proprietor of a dog-fighting ring. Dog fighting paraphernalia was seized, pit bulls were confiscated, and at least 6 dogs were exhumed from various shallow graves on the property. Vick was arrested. He lied to everyone about it. The NFL Commisioner, the owner of the Falcons, anyone watching TV who cared to listen. But it turned out dog-fighting was only the backdrop for the really sick stuff Vick did on that farm.

The indictment the Feds read out painted Vick to be the Papa Doc Duvalier of dog killers. Any way you can think of to kill a dog, Vick did it. Shot. Electrocuted. Drowned. Vick did it. Dog fighting is one thing -- well it's lots of things, but the kind of cold-blooded, personal and sadistic way Vick ended dogs' lives went well-beyond an illicit gambling operation. Goes well beyond questions of a "culture" that accepted dog fighting as a way of life. Hearing that indictment, people I knew who had rooted for the guy wondered what sort of person could do that. I was one of them. He went away for 18 months for a misdemeanor. He got out, and seemingly within minutes, he got a football contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. I wondered how an NFL team would explain their decision to hire Vick. Not that they couldn't or shouldn't, but I was curious to see how the battle to make it all okay was going to be fought.

His appearance on "60 Minutes" was to be the centerpiece of his "I'm sorry" tour, wherein he could persuade people that, like William Munny in "Unforgiven", he really "wasn't like that anymore." I came away deeply unconvinced. He seemed overly reliant on pre-written phrases ("put it all in perspective", "all because of the so-called culture"), cheap contrition ("I feel bad inside") and it all just seemed forced. In a clip they had of him speaking to a group on the evils of dog-fighting, he seemed to be struggling to remember the lines he was supposed to say.

In flashes though, I think his actual feelings made it through the stage-managed act. For instance, after James Brown details the ways Vick killed dogs, the aforementioned shooting, drowning, electrocuting, Vick sighs and says, "I don't know how many times I have to say it..." How about once? When asked why he cried at night, Vick didn't once mention dogs, or what he'd done to them. The overriding impression I get is that he's sorry he got caught. The interview showed not that he was sorry or changed, just that he could repeat the talking points his image management team told him to say.

Whether it's correct that, after serving his time, he should or should not be allowed to resume his football career is another issue. I'm of two minds on it myself. But what's at issue here is this: has Vick changed? Does he think that what he did to those animals was "disgusting," as he worded it in the interview? He says he has. But when he says he didn't feel disgust for what he'd done until the bars clanged shut his first night in jail, or when he continues to say he deeply regrets "the things I let go on," my inclination is to believe that he hasn't changed. He didn't let electrocuting a dog "go on", he actually did it himself. Same with the one he drowned, same with the ones he shot.

Here's the clip of the interview. Take a look and decide for yourself whether you think he's being sincere. Some of it I might put down to his not being a super bright guy, which is certainly not a crime, but my first read is that he isn't sorry yet. He still doesn't get it. He probably won't stage dog fights again, just because that would be beyond reckless, even for him, but I'm not at all persuaded he understands the reason for the public anger.

The whole sordid business has soured me on professional football. In the end, no matter how much the NFL Commissioner talks about how much he himself really loves dogs, no matter how often the Eagles owner says he expected a certain amount of "self hate" from Vick before he signed him, and no matter how awesome a mentoring job Tony Dungee does to make Vick a stellar human being, the fact that the whole charade is being perpetrated at all is because there are dollars yet to be made off of Vick playing football. Because this is true, people who want money will line up to make it off him, dog killer or no. It's something you know in your bones anyway: none of these guys is playing for the love of the game (who knows how many years its been since that was true), but to have the skin of civility ripped off the enterprise so brazenly is dispiriting.

One gets the feeling watching this play out, that it almost doesn't matter what Vick had done. If he was in playing shape when he got out of jail, someone who liked money would put a football in his hand and a fat check in his pocket, and Vick would go on "60 Minutes" and say how drunk driving is wrong, or domestic violence is wrong, or bar fighting that ends in death is wrong, and he'd play some football.

And you can be certain, no matter what he did, his image management team would make sure it was hard-hitting investigative reporter James Brown asking the questions.


A Nest of Cranes said...

very well said. My sentiments exactly but with a cool head and no obscenities. Thenks for saying what we all think, very well.

J. Randolph Briley said...

I agree completely on your assessment about Vick's faux-remorse. Fortunately, young children don't analyze a Player's fake emotions the way we adults do. They tend to believe exactly what they are told, especially if it comes from a Sports "Role model." And what matters most right now is that the youth believe it when Vick says "dog fighting is wrong." So long as he continues to espouse this message I will support him. The moment he relapses I will be the first to line up to destroy him.

J. Randolph Briley said...

And on a related side-note; EA has already managed to put Vick(as an Eagle) in Madden 10.

monolith said...

he says - "What I did was wrong, and what you're doing is wrong. We must stop dog fighting, and I will do everything in my power to be a voice of someone who has finally woken up from the numbness, and knows just how bad it really is. My mission now is to be a source of service to save many animals."

I say open your wallet by at least 20% maybe more, also give him a cat, they suck

Anonymous said...

Brian very well said. Wayne Pacelle's says the Vick case has allowed the HSUS to build inroads with community leaders to prevent dog fighting and Vick is important to this process. So that made me feel a little better.
I got the feeling Vick was trying not to laugh in the 60 Minutes interview. Did anybody else get that impression?
At the same time our prison system's record of rehabilitation is so depressing that I have a hard time begrudging someone a second chance. Part of me says at least he has employment options after getting out of the pen. Most people in his situation don't.

Harwell said...

Ha - nice last line, Mono. And it is kind of funny that you bring up cats, since we've all seen photographic evidence of Crane gleefully trying to eat a live kitten. Little bit of the pot calling the kettle back, aren't we Brian?

Briley: if it's in the game, it's in the game. You know how EA does it...

I don't think Vick can honestly say anything that would be satisfactory at this point. Sure, it would be nice if he at least seemed genuine, but that wouldn't really change anything either would it? The guy's a monster, but he was punished as such and now I think he's entitled to rebuild his life.

Furthermore, I don't know that we necessarily expect anything more from any other person coming out of prison, do we? "Change" and "reform" are probably wishful ideas in regards to what happens at prisons this day and age. Look at sex offenders. We so expect them NOT to have been changed by prison that we put them on lists so the entire society can keep an eye out for them. It's almost an admission that prison does next to nothing to prevent a relapse.

If we wanted Vick to really change he probably should've spent 18 months working for the SPCA or something instead of in a cell doing nothing, learning nothing.

Anonymous said...

here is what I would do.. since this is about money.. any game that Vick is in.. don't watch it.. call the station and tell them you are not watching it.. call Coke send them an e-mail and tell them you are not watching it.. don't buy anything that is advertised on the channel during the game for a month.. don't go ionto the stores that advertise.. make it about money.

Moorhead said...

Yeah - you can bet if he was caught electrocuting money, none of these dudes would have anything to do with him.

Thank God Manson wasn't athletic.