Michael Vick found that there were some problems even he couldn't run away from.
Vick is also a convicted felon who spent time in prison for dog fighting and animal cruelty, making him perhaps the most polarizing player in the NFL. Vick’s troubles are well documented, but his rehabilitation and subsequent success is what deserves a more thorough discourse. Vick has not been a model citizen throughout his life, but he seems to be making amends for it now.
The question begs: what is forgivable? I believe forgiveness comes from three different schools of thought which I will introduce as my "Forgiveness Theory."
What is forgivable?
Crimes against humanity have gone on since Cain invited Abel to a walk in the field. The line of atrocity has shown to be relative to the time period. Suspected witches were once burned at the stake. Today, there are witchcraft conventions and blog sites.
Our contemporary conventional wisdom goes back to the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. We look at crime in relation to how offended we would be if it happened to us. Crimes like speeding and thievery are less offensive than rape and murder.
We rule with sympathy, but when it comes to animals, we impose our empathetic nature.
We see animals as helpless, and therefore find acts of cruelty against them as worse than cruelty against humans. Where a person may become angry or defensive, we see the image of a dog cowering with its tail between its legs and it strikes a terrible chord. While I don’t condone animal cruelty in any manor, the punishment for cruelty to animals is often much more harsh than the punishment for acts against people.
I’m not saying punishments for animal cruelty are too harsh. I believe that punishments for acts against humans should be harsher.
But what can we look past?
We understand acts of rage or desperation. We can identify with crimes of passion. We generally don’t forgive rapists or child molesters for a few reasons. One is that we can’t identify with the crime. If a person is starving, stealing a loaf of bread can be justified. If a person is horny or depraved, stealing a woman’s dignity or a child’s innocence is deplorable and unforgivable.
A second reason is the potential for a repeat offense. Sharing the same air with a thief is something people on the street accept as a fact of life. Sharing the same air as rapists and molesters is disturbing at best, impossible at worst.
The answer to what is forgivable comes from two places. Can the person atone? Can the person rehabilitate? A person who is truly sorry for a crime can be forgiven most of the time. But the question is, are they truly sorry? Or in the words my mother used to admonish me and my siblings, “You’re not sorry, you’re sorry you got caught.” Which brings me to the next question in the Forgiveness Theory…
Has the person earned forgiveness?
Most crimes are forgivable.
If a person continues to do the same thing over and over without remorse or regret, however, do they deserve our forgiveness?
This is tricky because petty thieves can be looked at as worse than muggers and street thugs. It’s all about deeds. A person can say they’re sorry all they want, but what they do from that point on is what earns absolution. People don’t accidentally commit crimes. It takes either impulse or forethought.
Once a person expresses regret and sorrow for his or her actions, that person should not fall into the same patterns. This can be a small gesture like not hanging with the same crowd or something more significant, like overcoming a drug addiction.
Understanding the nature of the sin we have committed is just as important as being remorseful because we need to prevent it from happening again. An addict may not want to do anymore drugs, but if the addict only surrounds himself or herself with other addicts, then the vicious circle will just start over again.
Each crime is different, but restitution seems to be a good place to start on the road to forgiveness. If money is not the issue, then helping others out of the same situation is always a good idea. If the crime is specific to another person such as assault or worse, then all that can really be done is leading by example and an open mind.
The fact of the matter is that even if a person has earned forgiveness, they may not get it. This leads me to my final point.
Who is doing the forgiving?
I’ve heard throughout my life that it is not our job to judge people and that everyone will have to answer for their sins on their day of judgment. While this is extremely satisfying if you believe it, I still subscribe to the theory of immediate retribution.
That being said, forgiveness is relative to the person whom the act was committed against. It’s easy for me to forgive a person who committed a crime against someone else, but can I forgive someone who committed a crime against me? This probably takes a much stronger person than I (mostly because I hold grudges) but I haven’t had too many experiences where a person has truly wronged me and actually expressed a great amount of regret over it.
In the case of Michael Vick, this is the most interesting question because a dog can’t forgive and even if they could, dozens of them are dead and wouldn’t be able to anyway. But is it even my place to forgive him? He didn’t wrong me.
I believe, using my theory, I have the Vick answer.
First let me state that I have never liked Michael Vick. I always saw him as someone who had all the talent in the world and relied on his athletic ability to get by, enough to fool people into believing he was a good quarterback. Before he was arrested a few years back I looked at him as a thug and was convinced he would never amount to anything in the NFL, or in life.
It was easy for Vick to say he was sorry. Being sorry and convincing an NFL team meant that he could go back to making a living that most people dare not dream. But that doesn’t mean that he was insincere.
Applying Forgiveness Theory
1.Was Vick’s crime forgivable? Yes. To be able to forgive crimes like Vick’s you have to be able to understand the nature of the crime. Although Vick has been a touted athlete most of his life, he was raised around dog fighting. This doesn’t mean he didn’t know it was wrong, but it explains how he could get into it.
It was something accepted within his circle. Dog fighting was something that existed and the dogs were looked at as a tool for amusement and money-making rather than as pets. He has expressed his remorse and in a few heartfelt interviews has actually shown that he understands the severity of his acts.
2. Has Vick earned forgiveness? Yes. I look at this as a glass half full situation. If I was required to show remorse by speaking to a few children about not committing a crime and it meant that I could go back to being an NFL quarterback, I would do it. The difference with Vick is that it’s not required of him.
As far as society is concerned, he’s paid his debt with a few years of prison time. He’s lost over $100 million in contracts and endorsements and is basically working for his creditors. He’s also on display and wears this humiliating stigma with him every day.
He goes into bad neighborhoods to speak to wayward youth and goes to schools to try to shed light on a terrible part of the criminal underworld but to also show children that no matter how famous, rich or important a person feels they are, it can all be taken away in a moment.
We’ll never know what’s in Michael Vick’s heart, but I’d like to believe that something so life changing must have been exactly that for Vick—life changing.
3. Who’s doing the forgiving? There are several people involved in this process. There are the fans who rooted for him and bought his merchandise who were let down. There are animal lovers around the world who work their whole lives to stop dog fighting rings like the one Vick ran.
There’s the average Joe on the street who just wants him to be a decent person and not a dirt bag. I believe all of these groups can be appeased by Vick’s atonement. He can’t turn back the clock, but he can make good on the rest of his life. I think that’s all we can ask of anyone.