Michael Vick and Donte' Stallworth: Injustice Served

Casey McLain@caseymclain34Senior Analyst IJune 18, 2009

RICHMOND, VA - DECEMBER 10:  Animals rights activists and Frankie the dog wait outside a sentencing hearing for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in federal court December 10, 2007 in Richmond, Virginia. Vick and three associates pleaded guilty to charges related to their roles running an interstate dogfighting ring.  (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)

Less than one month after Michael Vick was released from Leavenworth, a military penitentiary, after 19 months served, Donte' Stallworth began a 30-day jail sentence.

Almost a year ago I wrote an article about how Josh Hamilton and Ricky Williams were so differently characterized by the media despite their very similar pasts. The point I attempted to make was that while Williams has been rightfully vilified and deserves no sympathy, Hamilton has been unduly celebrated.

Another injustice occurred when Stallworth was sentenced, but unlike the comparison of Williams to Hamilton, the centerpiece of the injustice is not race, but species.

During Vick’s legal process, there was something of a racial uproar, and while I feel that there was a cultural bias, I don’t think that race was the culprit.

I recently visited a good friend of mine in Atlanta. He owns two pit bulls. At the end of a beverage-heavy night, he, I, and a few of his friends were all talking in his back yard. I asked if any of them had been to a dog fight. They all said no. I asked if they’ve heard of any dog fights, and the answers became a lot less negative.

Truth be told, whether it is crawfish or coffee beans, hula skirts or halter tops, marijuana or methamphetamines, there are simply things that go on in regions of this country, right and wrong, that the rest of the country simply won’t understand.

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When Vick called his acts a “mistake” he was criticized. He attempted to pass a despicable lifestyle off with the same term of remorse as one would use when waking up late for work or parking illegally.

Vick was wrong, he’s a criminal, and he was given a sentence that, at least to some extent, fit the crime.

If we are in fact from whence we came, be it the product of poverty or prosperity, is persecution the mandatory reaction to the exposure of origin?

When Vick was suspected of animal cruelty, the hyper-liberal Northwest (where I’m from) had convicted him in their own minds already. It wasn’t because he was black, but because animals have grown to have more rights in the public conscience than humans, which is the crux of the problem.

We have become desensitized to human death and suffering in this country. From Darfur to Honduras, from Italy to Iraq, news stories have become a fashion statement, a status symbol, a beacon for hipness.

Recovery is no longer measured in quality of life, but pallet quantities of aid supplies and measurements cease when a newer, sexier, trendier plight is established.

Vick killed dogs, he fought dogs, he tortured dogs, and he facilitated the same heinous acts even when his hands weren’t bloody.

He’s been in the news for the better part of two years as a result.

Stallworth killed a human being. A man’s life ended because Stallworth, knowingly impaired, got behind the wheel of a car. A man with a family, a history, a past, no longer has a life because of Stallworth. Stallworth was sentenced to one twenty-third the sentence that Vick got.

But human death is boring and overplayed.

Stallworth’s accident was a display of bad judgment, but he wasn’t playing with his stereo or text messaging—he was drunk. He didn’t make a mistake; he made a decision, or more accurately, multiple decisions. Multiple bad decisions.

Somehow, Stallworth has come out of this case looking like a decent guy. He didn’t flee the scene, he expressed remorse, and he’s reached out to the family of the deceased. However, that does not excuse the action that led to his remorse.

Acting properly after the incident doesn’t absolve sin.

Perhaps, though, familiarity is what has led to our leniency. Each of us probably knows someone who has, or have ourselves, driven impaired in the last week, month, or year.

Driving intoxicated has become as much a laughing as a legal matter. A DUI is often met with the same reaction as a speeding ticket: “It sucks he got caught.”

As part of Stallworth’s plea agreement, he agreed to pay $2,500 to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. He reached a financial settlement with the family of the deceased, avoiding a civil suit.

Remorse isn’t reincarnation or revival, and reconciliation shouldn’t be measured in dollar figures, though it often is.

But dogs don’t have bank accounts.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Vick hasn’t suffered financially.

Vick filed for bankruptcy, was released from a contract worth more than $100 million, and has lost two years in his chosen profession directly from his athletic prime.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has been at the forefront of Vick critics. They’ve demonstrated at hearings, and organized a campaign for Vick to educate people on animal rights upon his release from prison.

But like many activists groups, they’ve leapt the murky moat between motivation and agenda.

PETA works toward equality between human and animal rights, but when did equality become a relative term?

For that matter, when did ethics become a catch phrase?

Human lives have inherited a monetary value, effectively cheapening their inherent value. But when did humane and humanity lose their first five letters?

Perhaps sports are a poor outlet and a bad parallel for societal woes, but it appears that the judicial system is trading human lives for animal lives at pennies on the dollar.

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