Michael Vick Shouldn't Be Judged: Why Fans Need To Fall Back

James BlankenshipContributor IJanuary 19, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 09:  Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles drops back against the Green Bay Packers during the 2011 NFC wild card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 9, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Now that Michael Vick has reclaimed stardom, everyone seems to have an opinion on him. Even washed-up musicians who are unrecognizable by this generation of sports fans have something to say.

Nils Lofgren, a self-proclaimed virtuoso rock guitarist who has toured with Bruce Springsteen, is just one of the many self-righteous Vick critics to voice his concern in recent weeks.

A competent individual might wonder, “What do those credentials have to do with football or any sport for that matter?” They don’t. Yet, for some reason, ESPN allowed Mr. Lofgren to submit a “special” piece to its website about Vick, which opens with the following sentence: “I am so disheartened and disappointed by your collective, lopsided praise of Michael Vick due to his recent spectacular on-field performance.”

Paint me with a crazy brush, but that sentence doesn't make any sense.

Is it not the job of ESPN and its constituents to cover the most spectacular on-field performances in any sport and to rave about them? I mean, ESPN certainly does the opposite, poking selfishly stupid athletes with a stick for even the most minuscule of on- or off-the-field mess-ups.

Perhaps the most revolting paragraph appears midway through the article, when Lofgren says, “I support [Vick’s] right to earn a living. But, while I can’t fault him for taking advantage of the opportunities afforded him by playing in the NFL, I feel he does not deserve that lofty a place in our society and culture. However repentant he may be, he committed acts whose vileness will resonate down the years. When you do what Vick did, a second chance should never include the rare gift of an NFL career and the potential bounty it offers.”

I just threw up in my mouth.

Let me remind you, dear Nils, of the fact that countless individuals who share your job description have enjoyed a lofty place in our society and culture while also enjoying the potential bounty it offers, despite rampant drug use and several criminal convictions. One name that jumps to mind is Keith Richards, a man who went from trafficking heroin to playing in the all-star jam session of the 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

As evidenced by his appearance on Rolling Stone’s Top 10 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, Richards is still embraced by credential-laden members of the rock and roll community. Basically, Nils is saying that Vick, once his career is finished, doesn’t deserve similar recognition because of his conviction for dog fighting.

Maybe Richards is a poor example, given the fact he wasn’t a professional athlete. If asked publicly, Nils would probably denounce Richards and say he doesn’t now and never did deserve the fame and fortune he accrued. So what about Tiger Woods? It’s not just that Tiger pounced on anything and everything one could have sex with while he was married; it’s that he did it behind a self-created public image that portrayed him as an honest, successful and caring person.

Unlike Woods, Vick never formed public relations teams fueled by hundreds of thousands of his own dollars to convince the masses he was as pure as a snowflake. Even Bill Clinton remains beloved, despite his insatiable need to spread his seed while in the White House.

Lofgren’s entire article reeks of ignorance and judgmental language in such a face-slapping manner that, after I read it, I felt compelled to go punch a Philippine Tarsier. (Don’t worry—they aren’t nearly as cute and cuddly as puppies, so it’s OK.)

Vick’s case is no different than those of many people who, at some point, succumbed to the temptations and greed created by their success and made a terrible mistake. Sports Illustrated recently ran a terrific article on the “enigma” created by Vick’s ascension to MVP candidate, posing the question, “What does Michael Vick tell us about ourselves?”

That is a silly question. Are we, as a nation of sports fans, incapable of separating the excitement created by the athletes we follow from the decisions they make in their personal lives? O.J. Simpson is a criminal who will spend the rest of his life rotting in prison for making the mistakes he was caught for, and forever hated in the public eye for those he wasn’t. He was also an amazing football player.

It is easy to fall in love with our favorite athletes, bringing them up in conversation as casually as if we were mentioning a friend who did something crazy at a party last weekend. As fans, we should be wary of judging and comparing them to each other or to anyone else for that matter. People make mistakes. It’s impossible to compare those mistakes or the lives of the individuals who made them, because every situation is different and deserving of unique evaluation and understanding.

What does Michael Vick tell me about myself? His story reminds me that I am capable of separating the objective from the subjective, that I am capable of appreciating someone’s talents without judging that individual’s ethics or attitudes.

What does Michael Vick tell us about ourselves, as a sports-loving nation of fans? His story reminds me that, by and large, ours is a sports-loving nation of 14-year-olds, as eager to judge others, point fingers, place blame and gossip as a middle school girl yet to discover what it means to be empathetic. To those who have simply enjoyed watching the product Michael Vick has put on the football field, I commend you.

For those who insist he doesn’t deserve the rewards he has earned as a result of hard-work, talent and dedication, I have one question: Would you be as judgmental if he had been convicted on federal cock-fighting charges?