Friday, August 14, 2009

Michael Vick goes back to work

Michael Vick, released after serving his time for a Federal Dog Fighting conviction, was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles to be their backup quarterback.

I love dogs. JJ, the dog in my picture, is a terrific, loving and gentle dog who was abused by his first owners. Few things can upset me as much as those who abuse animals.

And yet, I believe Michael Vick should return to work.

Jim Capel is an excellent writer for ESPN. He wrote an article called "Vick is just another working stiff."

He addressed the thread found in many an article about Vick and other athletes that have either broken the law or made dubious ethical decisions should be suspended or kicked out of professional sports, regardless of fulfilling the legal consequences of their actions, because "it's an honor to be allowed to play" in each league.

Caple wrote:

Despite what many people say, it is not a privilege to play in the NFL, the NBA, the major leagues, the NHL or any other professional sports league. It is simply a job, a career that is not benevolently granted to athletes but one they earn by honing their talents through years of practice. It comes with benefits and negatives, the same as any other profession. Well, not necessarily the same benefits and negatives -- when was the last time 50,000 people cheered you for completing a TPS report or chanted "You suck!" for ignoring the "service required" light on the office copier? -- but it has aspects that are both good (cheerleaders and endorsements) and bad (frequent concussions and knee operations).

But just because pro athletes have careers we covet doesn't mean those careers come with further obligations than ours. Society's approval is not part of the job description any more than it is for a banker.

I think Capel is so right here. I think that those who are wealthy and famous (sports stars included) often get preferencal treatment, but this is not the case with Michael Vick who committed a horrible crime and has paid for it in many ways. He is free to pursue his career as a professional football player, just as anyone who serves their sentence should be free to do so.

No one in the NFL is obligated to have him in their franchise, but the Eagles should not be vilified for choosing to employ him. It's a's a's a business.

Capel again:

Yes, of course athletes should be good citizens, the same as everyone else. Yes, they should use their fame and prestige as a positive influence in the community: visiting hospitals, donating chunks of their enormous salaries to charity, avoiding shooting themselves or anyone else at a strip club. And yes, a commissioner hired to keep a league popular and lucrative should naturally be concerned about the behavior of its players.

But athletes are not required to do anything special just because their chosen career is one that gets regular play in the media and makes us feel joy, sorrow, anger and inspiration beyond all reasonable justification. It simply is unfair to declare that if a person wants to go into a particular field -- a career that in no way has any effect on our health, education, safety or livelihood -- he is also under additional moral obligations just because we think it would be cool to have the same job and convenient to use him as a role model.

Michael Vick does not necessarily deserve a second chance, he's not entitled to it, but it's still the right thing to do with him, or anyone who is willing to take the difficult road of walking beyond the wrong they have done: accepting the responsibility and consequences, and the realization that they must live with the past and never forget what they have done. Vick's walk is more public because his career is one so many people see and wish that they themselves had the talent to do. That reality should neither privilege or punish him.

It is worth saying that it is extremely difficult for any convict to get a second opportunity. I am pretty sure that is yet another failing of our prison system that preaches rehabilitation without providing the tools to go forward. (Please accept my apologies for the many people who do their best to help former convicts move forward...this is not an inditement of your work, only an acknowledgment that the resources are not there like they should be).

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