I don’t profess to know much about football. I should, though, being as I grew up in a house with my father and brother, both of whom are die-hard football fans. They are also dog lovers and we have had dogs for as long as I can remember. My father happens to own a bully mix named Godzilla.
In spite of Godzilla and their own love of dogs, both my brother and father are quick to defend Michael Vick. I am an outspoken animal advocate and maybe an even more vocal pit bull supporter, but my comments about Vick are often met with eye-rolls and comments about him having served his time, and that I should learn to “move on”.
This is actually a common response from many uncompromising football fans. It is not a response exclusive to Vick fans, but one that frequently comes from the fans of teams to which he has been newly drafted. Now that Vick is officially a Pittsburgh Steeler, the debate of whether or not he has done enough to redeem himself is rearing its ugly head and creating a palpable divide in the football universe.
Vick’s actions rocked the animal welfare and rescue world, the impact of which is still being felt, today. Vick may have been able to walk away after serving little over a year in jail and promising to participate in a few speaking engagements, but his dogs met a far more tragic fate. The ones who weren’t drowned, electrocuted, beaten, hung, or fought to death, were evaluated and rescued thanks to the tireless work of an organization known as BAD RAP, who fought alongside Best Friends Animal Society for the right to save the remaining dogs, rather than their being almost immediately euthanized (which has been protocol in former dogfighting busts). Amazingly, many of these dogs have since been adopted through BAD RAP or are sanctuaried with Best Friends. Working with governing bodies to make this happen was not easy, nor was working with dogs who had suffered so much and were in need of a great deal of attention for rehabilitation, but these people were devoted to providing these dogs with a new lease on life.
Eight years later, the Animal Rescue League of Pittsburgh announces that it has moved the location of its 16th Annual Paw Prints Gala, stating in a press release, “Given Heinz Field’s status as the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, however, we do not find it to be a proper setting for this year’s Paw Prints.” This decision was met with the same eye-rolls and comments about moving on that I hear at home from my family, but made by a wide range of football fans. It makes me question where the disconnect exists: Why do these fans find it so easy to forgive and forget in spite of the terrible things that Vick has done?
As an animal advocate, I am incensed by Michael Vick’s actions and disgusted by the NFL and its fans ability to so easily dismiss him of responsibility. Football fans attack us, saying that we care more for dogs that were killed than we do for victims of other football players who have been accused of things like rape or murder, which is simply not true. But this defense is incredibly telling and forces us to recognize an inherent problem that exists in America in regard to celebrity. The truth is that none of these men should be afforded the opportunity to return to football. As public figures who have had criminal pasts that power beyond petty crimes, they are undeserving of fan idolatry and the money that comes with the gig. There is no reason (other than unadulterated greed and want of the attention drawn from controversy) that these men should continue to represent the NFL. There are plenty of aspiring players waiting in the wings who are far more deserving of a dream opportunity like playing in the NFL that continuing to support these criminals is unjustifiable. If found guilty of these same crimes, non-celebrities would have served longer prison sentences and/or their lives post-prison would be incredibly trying. Finding any job, let alone one that pays millions of dollars each year, would prove nearly impossible.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I cannot move on. As a community, animal lovers cannot move on. The dogs that were killed were never afforded an opportunity to move on and neither should Vick be allowed to participate in the NFL as his way of moving on.
I apologize if this post seems a bit disjointed, but it was written while I was feeling a bit frenzied.
What are your thoughts on Vick’s return to football? How do you feel about the NFL allowing for players like this to continue their careers?
For those of you who are interested, this link offers sources for articles and media pieces involving the Vick dogs: