Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger and Moral Outrage

XXX XXXContributor IOctober 4, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 03:  Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles throws a pass against the Washington Redskins on October 3, 2010 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In Philadelphia, Michael Vick is suddenly relevant again, leading the Eagles to a pair of wins while sending erstwhile quarterback of the future, Kevin Kolb, to the bench.

In Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger is two weeks away from returning to a team that has gone an unexpected 3-0 behind Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch. 

Both players’ crimes have been well-documented: Vick participated in a dog-fighting ring that resulted in a 23-month federal prison sentence, while Roethlisberger has had a pair of sexual assault allegations leveled at him in the past 18 months, neither of which resulted in a trial. 

The similarities make it impossible not to compare the cases: star NFL quarterbacks committing morally reprehensible acts, missing games as a result of league-mandated suspensions, and trying to rehab their images.

Why, then, is the vitriol directed at Vick of such a monstrously greater intensity than that Roethlisberger faces? 

Excepting recent exclamatory posts from Eagles fans, the majority of the Facebook posts and Tweets Vick has effected have been at best acerbic and at worst positively defamatory.

Everyone and his brother has played the righteous moral outrage card, often time and again. 

In Bill Simmons’ recent ESPN column expressing his support for Vick, he quotes his wife as saying, in regard to Vick’s recent efforts to turn his life around, “I can't believe you fell for that crap. He's just doing it for the PR and to save his career. Anyone who hurts animals like he did has a dark side to them. That side doesn't go away. He can say all he wants. I know what he did. You'd care if you still loved dogs.”

This sentiment is undoubtedly shared by millions of people across the country.

In a vacuum, this is perfectly acceptable: dog fighting is classified as a criminal activity for a reason. Compared to Roethlisberger’s transgressions, though, the furor is disproportionate. 

Nine months after a civil suit alleging sexual assault was filed against the Steeler in July 2009, reports emerged that Milledgeville, Ga. police had begun an investigation into a sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by Roethlisberger in a nightclub. 

According to testimonies in the police report—which is available online—from the alleged victim’s friends, Roethlisberger said, “I’m not d.t.f. but I like to f*** girls,” one of his bodyguards guided the alleged victim into a back room and then refused to let the alleged victim’s friends into the room, and “she opened the bathroom door by mistake and he followed her in there, and shut the door. She continued to say she didn’t want to have sex, but he kept saying ‘No, it’s OK.’ He had unprotected sex with her.”

The case did not go to trial for a few reasons: the alleged victim did not want an intrusive public trial, and the district attorney in charge of the case, Fred Bright, said, “I cannot prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

Legally, both the Vick episode and the Roethlisberger case were handled as they should have been. There was sufficient evidence to convict Vick of the charges, and he was sentenced and served his time in prison. Similarly, Roethlisberger’s case was correctly treated, as there was an infinitesimal chance of a conviction.

Setting these legalities aside, though, the lack of public demonization is appalling. A man has, at the very least, a complete disrespect for women and, depending on how much faith you have in the testimony of the alleged victim and her friends, a propensity for forcible sexual misconduct.

Vick, on the other hand, pitted dogs—not sentient beings—against each other in fights that were often to the death. 

Which of these crimes is worse? One man abused dogs, another man—allegedly—abused women. Both were cruel and unfeeling in their acts.

So why is the one who mistreated animals given a far worse punishment both from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (an indefinite suspension instead of the four-game suspension Roethlisberger received) and from the knives of public opinion?

The moral of the story, here, is that the more acrimonious treatment of Vick than of Roethlisberger following the release of pertinent details shows a disturbing feature of our society: there is a greater stigma towards animal abuse than there is toward the mistreatment of women.

And it certainly doesn’t take a feminist to realize just how backward this culture is. 

Think about how Simmons’ wife’s statement would read if it were applied to Roethlisberger’s case: “I can't believe you fell for that crap. He's just doing it for the PR and to save his career. Anyone who hurts women like he did has a dark side to them. That side doesn't go away. He can say all he wants. I know what he did. You'd care if you still loved women.”

Isn’t this a more appropriate sentiment about moral reprehensibility and culpability?