Wednesday, August 31, 2011


You may have heard by now that Michael Vick, the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, just won a one hundred million dollar, six year contract, just two years after being released from the Leavenworth penitentiary after being caught running a dog fighting business.

Sports analysts are already saying that Vick's deal is not really for a hundred million dollars; he's only truly guaranteed $35 million over the next three years, and can lose all the rest depending on his performance, lack of injury, and the like. Still. $35 million is an awful lot of money for a convicted dog killer.

For many in the sports world, Vick's story is a storyof redemption. Not only did Vick lose his football career, his lucrative product endorsements, and his freedom, but in 2008 he filed for bankruptcy, thanks to the loss of his income and poor financial management of his assets while he was free. Yet less than two years later, Vick not only got a chance to play professional football again, being named Comeback Player of the Year in 2010, but he is now the third highest paid player in the NFL, and the first to ever sign two one hundred million dollar deals in his career. He's also gotten back his endorsements; even Nike, notoriously shy of signing controversial athletes, has given Vick a new contract.

At a press conference announcing his new contract, Vick appeared humble, and talked about the "sacrifices" he had to make to reach this point in his life, and all that he gave up--he does still owe millions to his creditors as part of his bankruptcy settlement. Sports commentators seem united in their sense that Vick is now a changed man, and that he has moved forward from his "mistakes." That may well be, and in the press conference, he seemed sincere.

But I'm still not convinced. Running a dog fighting ring that involved multiple states, gambling and racketeering, lying to police and prosecutors, and hundreds of dogs being trained, fought, and, in many cases, brutally killed (some by Vick himself) is not a "mistake." It's a sign of extreme cruelty and, some would say, pathology.

America is the land of second chances. We famously forgive our fallen celebrities for their financial, sexual, and even criminal transgressions. And if we won't allow for those who have sinned to redeem themselves, what does it say about us?

But for me, I am going to wait and see. I suspect that Vick won't--or at least won't soon, because right now he can't afford it--restart his extravagent lifestyle, and will try to keep a clean image. I certainly doubt that he will ever engage in dog fighting again. He would be insane to do so. But I wonder how a person who once tortured animals for pleasure and profit can ever truly change, especially if he continues to refer to that behavior as "mistakes."

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