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Weighing in on Michael Vick

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  August 20, 2007 07:56 PM

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Michael Vick will enter a guilty plea to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges.

Let the psychoanalysis begin.

‘‘Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges and to accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made,’’ attorney Billy Martin said in a statement. ‘‘Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter.’’

His plea hearing will be next Monday.

So Michael Vick now becomes a pejorative. He is a permanent part of America’s handy reference catalogue. Henceforth, when you think of any form of cruelty to dogs, or any domestic animals, you will automatically think ‘‘Michael Vick.’’

‘‘Oh no! He’s pulling a Vick!’’ That’s what people will say.

This all represents an astonishing fall from grace for one of America’s most celebrated athletes. Three months ago, he was one of the NFL’s four most famous players. (I didn’t say ‘‘best.’’ I said ‘‘most famous’’). Think about it: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and Michael Vick. In some order.

Michael Vick’s issues were all football issues. The debate was about how far a team could go with a quarterback who ran for 1,000 yards but who was an erratic passer. It was about whether or not he was worth the 10-year, $130 million contract he received from Falcons owner Arthur Blank in December 2004.

Now he is infamous. Now the debate concerns just how much punishment is enough for someone who committed a heinous crime.

Can you imagine how guilty Michael Vick is if he has decided to enter a guilty plea? The Hail Mary of a jury trial was always hanging out there. There was always the possibility that a rogue group of his fellow Americans could have ignored evidence and testimony and set him free, all justice and common sense to the contrary. We’ve all seen it happen. I think we can safely say that Vick and even some of his lawyers strongly considered going down that path.

But they did not and he did not. His own lawyers concluded that he was overwhelmingly guilty, and that things could be brought up in a trial that would make him look even worse. So he was persuaded to get it over with, to assume responsibility for funding and supervising a sickening dogfighting ring.

With all the things someone could do with his money, it is incomprehensible to most of us that someone who has been exposed to the benefits and mores of modern society would choose to spend money on an activity in which dogs are trained to kill and dogs that are not of use in this sordid enterprise are killed in horrifying ways.

The words that come to mind to describe someone who would indulge in this pastime would include sick, twisted, demented, unbalanced, and sadistic. Feel free to add a few of your own.

And let’s get it straight. His crime wasn’t lying to commissioner Roger Goodell when first confronted with the allegations. Of course he was going to lie. He never dreamed for a second that his buddies would ever betray him. He was Michael Vick, a star athlete used to getting his way.

Nor was his crime the gambling associated with dogfighting itself. The gambling is irrelevant.

No, his crime was a rational decision to engage in an activity the overwhelming percentage of people in this country would declare to be a repugnant enterprise. Dogfighting insults us as a society. It demeans us by its very existence.

Some have apologized for him by citing his ghetto background and the idea that, as a high-level jock, he has seldom heard the word ‘‘no.’’ Stop it. Scores of NFL and NBA players come from similar backgrounds. And while I am not naive enough to think that Michael Vick is the only NFL player, past or present, who has had some involvement in dogfighting, the fact is that most athletes are law-abiding citizens. Their dogs are pets, not contestants.

I’m sorry, but citing ‘‘cultural differences’’ is just too much of a convenient excuse to explain deviant behavior such as Michael Vick’s. What he did was criminal, by any standards, and he will now pay a price.

Roger Goodell gets four stars for his handling of the Vick case. We now see that his decision to bar Vick from training camp was just and proper. He didn’t need to feel the wrath of protesters to know that he was dealing with a very sensitive situation. I believe he was as personally offended as the rest of us by the scope of the crime, and there was simply no way he wanted Michael Vick representing his league under the circumstances.

The public spoke up, too. We learned that right up there with race, sexual harassment, and religion as third-rail issues is the subject of domestic animal rights and domestic animal abuse. Michael Vick and his friends ventured into very dangerous territory.

It would be nice if the football-loving public would henceforth register similar outrage when players take part in crimes against human beings. When a high-profile player is heavily involved in a situation wherein two people are murdered, when another player is heavily involved in a situation where an innocent man is paralyzed for life by a gunshot, and when the next in a long line of brutes physically abuses a woman, the same voices that now decry the actions of Michael Vick should turn up the volume.

Let us be clear about one thing: Michael Vick is not the only person who has forfeited the privilege of playing in the National Football League.

Can Michael Vick ever be rehabilitated? Here is the only way: He does his time, and when he gets out, he writes two checks for a million dollars, one to the ASPCA and the other to the Humane Society. Then again, a million apiece might not suffice. Let’s make it two.

Roger Goodell might then consider giving him a second chance.

This story will appear in Tuesday’s Boston Globe.

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