The Michael Vick Conundrum

Mark Steven@@omstevenCorrespondent IAugust 18, 2009

So...Michael Vick.

I wasn’t intending to "go there" in this space. To me, this is a straight social issue, and only tangentially Redskins-related in that Vick’s new team, the Philadelphia Eagles, play in the same division.

However, a friend of mine whose thoughts I value and respect deeply recently wrote a strongly-worded, passionate piece about Vick’s return to the NFL, and it got my juices flowing a bit.

Add to that the fact I am a Virginia Tech grad myself, and have followed Vick’s career since he showed up in Blacksburg a decade ago with fascination and natural partisan interest, and next thing I know, I'm writing this.

For the record, I do not claim original insight here, nor do I offer this as some soapbox social statement. I would just like to touch on an aspect of this entire situation that I haven’t seen given as much play as I think is warranted: Everyone’s personal view of this entire incident is inextricably bound to and viewed through the lens of their own personal value system.

That's an obvious statement on a certain level that I know we all understand intellectually. I’m just not sure how many of the more passionate voices I’ve heard speak on the subject have really accounted for it or acknowledged its relevance.

Personally, I find dog fighting abhorrent. I ache for the animals, harbor righteous rage against the humans who perpetrate it, and feel deeply frustrated confusion at the reality that so many fellow human beings utterly lack the empathy gene.

I find the way women are treated in much of the world abhorrent. The thought process behind treating any fellow human being as chattel has always been and will always be incomprehensible to me.

I find it incomprehensible that children are abandoned, beaten, abused, exploited, and ignored. I did so long before I had kids of my own; and today, as a father, it's an issue I cannot even think about without bringing knots to my gut and bile to my throat.

I feel these things, in large part, because I was raised in an environment where they were considered wrong.

But I also do things I know others find abhorrent. I eat meat. I don't subscribe to any of man's religions, and I am not shy about debating the matter with those who do. I don't care a whit about anyone else's sexual orientation.

I don't find those things abhorrent, in large part, because I was raised in an environment where they were considered normal.

Vick was raised in an environment where dogfighting is viewed by many as perfectly normal. That is not to imply he had no choice but to find it normal, no. But it is a factorone it is both unfair and unrealistic to dismiss out of hand.

I will never condone his actions, but I will also not forget the context in which he made them when it comes to how I view who he is now and what I believe our society should demand and expect from him for the rest of his life.

None of us will ever know what if anything has changed in Vick's heart. It is possible he's a changed man today, and his experience will create in him the champion of and ultimate weapon against animal cruelty the world over.

It is also possible he remains the exact same man he was before this whole sorry affair broke, and the only thing that's really changed is that he is and will be one hell of a lot more careful about what he shows in public.

The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in between. It almost always is.

Should he be allowed to make a living at the thing he does best? Of course he should. To suggest otherwise flies in the face of the legal system we live by—you pay your debt to society as the laws of the day dictate, then have the right to get on with your life.

Should the NFL have been forced, legally, morally or otherwise, into the role of social conscience or arbiter? I think notnot unless we're prepared to live in a society where some Solomonic regulatory agency has the right and/or duty to dictate to any business who it can and cannot hire based on whatever crimes they have already been punished for in the legal system.

I don't want to live in that society. But that's a discussion for another day.

The bottom line is, I do not and will not pretend to know what is in Vick's heart. I do think he should be able to play in the NFL. And I do think the Philadelphia Eagles would be totally justified demanding, in return for hiring him, that he use his celebrity to help bring the stark realities of dogfighting into the light, and to hopefully have some small effect in someday bringing it, if not to an end, at least to its knees. But that decision should be theirs, not imposed on them from without.

There will always be people who take pleasure in blood sports, in activities that take advantage of thosehuman and otherwisewho cannot say no. We all know that. But "the rest of us," even while admittedly superimposing our own value systems, also have the right and/ordepending on your own valuesthe duty, to try to reduce their numbers.

I believe that for as long as his skills allow, Vick can and should serve society—not to mention the current and future generations of man’s best friend—in that regard, particularly given the stage and platform of the NFL.

Whether his heart is in it or not.