$40 Million: Take Two


It seems like the NFL knows no end to controversy with the Michael Vick dogfighting case being the latest in a long first year for commissioner Roger Goodell. As we wait for Vick’s decision of whether to go to trial or enter into a plea bargain, I have been thinking about this case, especially in light of William C. Rhoden’s book, $40 Million Slaves. Far from justifying Vick et al’s heinous behavior, I think, given Rhoden’s discussions of inclusion without power and wealth without control, we might be able to approach an answer as to why Vick got involved with dogfighting.

Our dog Lucy brings us endless joy and laughter. I cannot imagine intentionally puting her in harm’s way, much less seeking to make a financial profit from doing so. I will not go into the details of the dogfighting case here and will simply call it what it is: evil. To the extent that people participate in it, they have committed a reprehensible sin that runs contrary to Jesus’ commandment to us to take care of “the least of these.”

However, when I look at the Vick case, I see something else going on here, potentially. First and foremost, Vick is not conducting dogfights for the money. If managed correctly, his endorsement deals and contracts should see to the financial security of his grandchildren and beyond. Second, despite assertions to the contrary, Vick did not conduct dogfights for the adrenaline rush they gave him. I imagine that playing at the highest level of professional sports and fleeing from the likes of Ray Lewis provided enough of that.

Then why? We could argue that he is quite simply an evil person, a soulless human being. But this is not really a logical argument. Besides, it ignores the doubtless good Michael Vick has done or the contributions he has made to thelives of others that we may never know about. Perhaps Vick involved himself in this dogfighting racket for a sense of power and control. While I doubt we will ever know just how closely Vick was involved in the different aspects of the racket, it is not hard to imagine that, given his wealth and fame, he played a significant role. Taking Rhoden’s arguments into account, perhaps his involvement in dogfighting gave him a sense of ownership, control, or power that being a merely expendable athlete did not. If Vick could not see any point of control in his day job, perhaps he grasped it where he could, among “friends” and opportunists off the field.

Of course, Vick is not the only problem child in the NFL, but we could argue that the league’s other problem children get into trouble for similar reasons. Gun possession or gang involvement or out of control posses might all signal grasps for power and control. Again, this argument is not a justification for bad behavior but an attempt to explain it. Rather than writing these athletes off as evil human beings, or as some people do, victims, perhaps we should also analyze the options that the current socio-economic system presents for them. What are their options beyond professional sports? How can owners, managers, and coaches mentor professional athletes of all races for life beyond the field of play?

Since all of the allegations have come out against Vick, many pundits have been calling him the face of dogfighting. While this will unfortunately be true, I do not believe it is just. Dogfighting has many faces, not the least of which are white. Should Vick miss this entire football season for his actions? YES! Should Vick serve jail time? YES! Should Vick be allowed to return to the NFL? I am not so sure. While this last answer may run counter to my opinions and forgiving attitude, I believe that, at some point, for the future good of all professional sports, commissioner Goodell has to make an extreme point that, unfortunately, might begin with Vick. Such behavior will not be tolerated. Will Vick’s professional life end here? Probably, and if so, that is just as unfortunate.