Over the last several weeks, considerable attention and discussion has been directed toward whether Michael Vick, the former NFL quarterback and convicted felon (he served two years for a conviction related to dog fighting) should be allowed to return to the NFL. He has been conditionally reinstated, so his return seems inevitable. Though protests are likely wherever he signs, NFL team owners care mostly about media attention and revenue, and it’s likely that Vick will bring both to whoever signs him.
There are several schools of thought on deciding whether Vick should be allowed to return to the NFL. I’d like to share with you those perspectives and then it’s up to you to decide for yourself.
The first view is that he is no different than any other convicted felon who paid his debt to society. Like others, he deserves and has a right to a second chance which includes gainful employment. He is certainly different than an ex-convict with no education or job skills who would struggle to find a job, but no different than one who with an MBA. In all cases, if they can find work, they have a right to it.
My initial reaction is one of support for this point of view. Our criminal justice system is based on paying that debt to society and the ability to return to society and he should not be exempted from that system simply because of his abilities or celebrity.
Another interesting point is that professional sports have a very forgiving attitude toward athletes convicted of crimes. Just about all of the professional sports leagues have players who have been convicted of vehicular manslaughter, spousal abuse, drunk driving, and drug-related crimes. Why such forgiveness? Certainly not because they see the goodness in all people. Instead, it’s simple economics; if a player can sell tickets, they will be given the opportunity to play.
An important question is whether Vick’s crime elevates him sufficiently above the laws of the land to the higher-placed morals of the lands. Certainly, if he had been convicted of crimes related to child pornography or rape, the chances are Vick would be too radioactive for even the NFL (though Mike Tyson’s rape conviction didn’t prevent promoters from allowing him to continue to fight and use his celebrity to earn a living). Dog fighting seems to approach that level of depravity given that dogs are beloved by Americans, usually seen as cute and cuddly, and are generally victims at the mercy of their owners (though one might argue that pit bulls and other fighting dogs don’t quite fit into that category). Apparently though, dog fighting doesn’t quite reach the level of immorality to override Vick’s economic benefits to the NFL.
Another perspective doesn’t quite buy into the legalistic view of Vick. Professional athletes, as well as other celebrities, play a rather unique role in our society, namely, as role models for children. This view holds that kids who look up to these athletes would be getting the wrong message-I can do awful things and even suffer some consequences, but then I go back to being rich and famous. So just meeting the legal standard of our criminal-justice system is insufficient from this perspective. I have to admit that I also support this perspective. It just kills me to see “fallen” professional athletes being viewed as heroes for speaking to young people about the evils of whatever their transgression was. The idea behind this kind of role modeling seems to be quite reasonable; young people learn the magnitude of the athletes’ crimes and the remorse the athletes feel, thus encouraging the audience to never want to fall prey to such temptation. My problem is the deeper message here, as I mentioned above, you can do a lot of bad stuff and still be rich and famous. How often do you see professional athletes who are actually paragons of virtue talking to young people about staying out of trouble? Rarely! Gosh, kids probably wouldn’t listen because the truly model athletes have no “street cred.”
Speaking of remorse, my final concern with Vick is whether he is truly sorry for what he did or if he’s just sorry that he got caught. He is certainly making amends by speaking out on behalf of PETA and animal safety. But I can’t shake the feeling that it is simply part of a well-orchestrated PR campaign and he’s just playing the “I’m sorry and I learned my lesson” game to get back in the game. Though people can certainly learn l from making mistakes, I can’t let go of the feeling that if he understood that what he did was wrong, he wouldn’t have done it in the first place. And, given the recidivism of other professional athletes, I’m not convinced that he isn’t still an immature, entitled, and spoiled man who will never get it.
With all that said, I will conclude by standing by my initial belief that our system allows second chances and that Michael Vick should be no exception. However, I assert this position with some reservation based on the other views I just offered. I will also hold final judgment until some time has passed and we see whether Vick is truly a changed man.