Michael Vick: On Judgement and Participation

Whenever pop culture icons exhibit bad behavior…behavior that would ruin the careers and lives of us average folk…the social commentators inevitably talk about how America is a forgiving culture.  As time passes, society will forgive and forget, or at least the most recent scandal will occupy our attention.  When the news story broke about Michael Vick’s involvement in a dog-fighting ring over a year ago, I thought that this would perhaps test the bounds of popular forgiveness.

The sports world has been dominated over the past few days by the return of Michael Vick to the NFL.  As soon as he was released from prison earlier this year, sports talk show hosts began speculating on the future of his career and what teams, if any, would take a chance on the troubled quarterback.  Last Friday, the Philadelphia Eagles took that chance and signed Vick to a one-year deal with an option for a second.  Of course, many analysts speculated on how this would play out with Donovan McNabb as the starting, and often ridiculed, QB.  Would there be a QB controversy…how would the Eagles “use” Vick?  The Eagles organization, including McNabb, quickly squashed those questions by arguing that McNabb played an integral role in bringing Vick to the Eagles.  Yesterday morning McNabb gave a press conference in which he expressed his side of the situation.  More interesting than any potential Wildcat formation or QB controversy is a statement that McNabb made in the press conference in which he said that he believes in a God who forgives us of our sins over and over again.  So while analysts are constantly talking about Vick’s second, and final, chance, McNabb reminds us of the God that offers countless chances.  I hear the echoes of scripture:  “How many times must I forgive my neighbor…?”
Though Vick is back in the NFL and will likely play, in some fashion, sooner than later, he is not out of the woods just yet.  Many polls reveal a 50/50 split regarding the Eagles’ decision to sign him.  Many people will never forgive Vick for his involvement in the heinous world of dog fighting.  As a dog owner, my stomach turns at the thought of it.  However, I recently heard a well-respected former NFL player talk about meeting Vick years ago and staying in contact with him throughout his career.  This player talked about knowing “bad guys” and how, in his opinion, he didn’t believe Vick was a “bad guy.”  He argued that Vick got caught up in an extremely horrific situation that spiraled out of and perhaps beyond his control.  We could endlessly debate whether or not Vick is a “bad guy” at heart, but I think we can all agree that Vick was simultaneously a victim of his own success and wealth.  I hear the echoes of Notorious B.I.G.:  “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”  This is not to excuse his participation and the consequences that he should, and has, faced.

Vick has and is continuing to pay his dues.  Perhaps he’ll never pay them in full.  He served jail time, lost a fortune, and will always have the memories and images of dog-fighting attached to conversations about him.  Forgiving Vick does not and should not mean that we do not expect him to spend the rest of his career and life in service to his communities.  In all of this talk, we are quick to judge and relatively quick to forgive.  Yet we never take the time to examine our own lives and actions vis-a-vis the scandal that captures our attention and judgment.

In this particular case, Tripp Fuller of Homebrewed Christianity, pointed out to me last night over dinner that we should not be too quick to judge Vick’s involvement in dog-fighting.  While Tripp quickly denounced the event as horrific, he also pointed to the food on our plate and reminded me that if we eat meat, we are most likely participating in systems that profit from and perpetuate cruelty to animals.  Factory farming, animal testing, slaughterhouses, etc.  We benefit from such activities on a daily basis without a second thought.  How many of us have attended the circus at some point in our lives?

Now I’m not saying that we all become vegetarians or lead violent attacks on factory farms.  But might we not take this scandal and this moment to analyze our own lives and actions to see how we (un)willingly participate in similar evils.  Are there ways in which we could curtail this participation?  Could we commit ourselves to actions and organizations that help mitigate the damage that we cause by simply living our daily lives?  Perhaps we as a society are willing to forgive so quickly because we dare not remember these scandals for too long lest they remind us of our own failings as well.