Like Mike: Why It's Time The NFL Treats Its Players Better

Craig HardtCorrespondent IJuly 28, 2009

RICHMOND, VA - AUGUST 27:  NFL star Michael Vick speaks at a press conference after appearing in federal court August 27, 2007 in Richmond, Virginia. Vick pleaded guilty in court to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

You’ve got anger?  That’s good.  You’ve got aggression? That’s better.

Playing football at its highest level requires more than being able to jump like a grasshopper and run like a gazelle.  It requires that you have an almost sadistic love of pain.  You must be prepared to destroy yourself physically, mentally and emotionally every day.

Bone-crushing hits, broken limbs, bodies strewn across a bloodied field:  The image of a medieval battle field where men ruthlessly chopped each other to bits with clubs, swords and axes or simply integral parts of the fabric of a game that has quickly become America’s favorite sport?

Football trains men to act like animals.  It trains them to lose control of who they are so that they may act with reckless abandon.

Before games, men huddle up and jump up and down barking and hollering like a pack of pit bulls anticipating a kill.

We expect these modern gladiators to treat every game, every play, as if it were their last.  We expect them to play with intensity and anger so strong that they enjoy hurting, even destroying their opponents.  And then we expect them to be normal.

When NFL players end up on police blotters for assault, carrying weapons, or even financing a dog-fighting ring, we crucify them.

Former NFL star Michael Vick has served two years in prison for his role in financing and participating in a brutal, cruel sport.  He will be barred from appearing in an NFL game until at least the sixth week of the upcoming season.

When do we receive our punishment?

If we compare the actions of Michael Vick that led to his well-publicized two year prison sentence to the actions of the NFL and, in a broader sense, its fans, how much different are the two?

Vick set up a dog-fighting ring that saw greedy men train dogs to harness the dogs’ natural aggression and anger into fighting their opponents—sometimes to the death. 

Winning dogs gained little from their achievements except the chance to fight again while, allegedly, losing dogs would be subjected to cruel forms of punishment bordering on torture.  When they are no longer useful, they are discarded.

The NFL is a league that sees greedy owners train other men of a particularly high level of athletic ability to harness their natural aggression and anger into fighting their opponents. 

The vast majority of players receives a relatively small percentage of the league’s earnings for their accomplishments and often is left with severe injuries that detrimentally impact the rest of their lives.  When they are no longer useful, they too are discarded.

Don't get me wrong, I believe Michael Vick deserved to go to jail and he deserved to suffer for his engagement in the despicable diversion that is dog-fighting.  However, I also believe that his actions are somewhat attributable to the dominant, overbearing role football has had in his life.  How else could someone enjoy watching dogs kill each other?  In some twisted, perverse way did Michael Vick see himself in the dog-fighting ring?

We all love the NFL and we all hate animal cruelty, but perhaps we should take Michael Vick's actions as an opportunity to learn instead of crucify.  After all, while I'm not suggesting the NFL is guilty of cruelty nearly as heinous and deplorable as the cruelty of owners of dogs in a dog-fighting ring (Dogs don't have any say in how they are treated or what they do),the similarities between the NFL's relationship with its players and Michael Vick's relationship with the dogs of the dog-fighting ring is striking.

Michael Vick's actions will never be forgotten, nor should they -- he's made millions thanks to our love for football and we, as fans, don't ask for much in return (Not torturing animals would be a good place to start).  But he deserves, if not forgiveness, at least understanding from NFL fans and the league itself. 

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