The Philadelphia Eagles have reportedly signed Michael Vick to a two-year contract. I'm a Philadelphia native, and the reaction from my Facebook feed tells me that the fans are less than pleased. One of my friends has designated her Eagles jersey as her dog's new chew toy. Another is convinced that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is just creating a smokescreen to take a little attention away from the world champion Philadelphia Phillies, and this will all turn out to be a hoax. A few have flat-out refused to watch any games this season. To give you an extent of how bad it is, one of my Facebook friends said he'd rather have T.O.─notorious showboat and citywide disappointment Terrell Owens─back than Michael Vick in an Eagles jersey. It's safe to say that come opening night at the Linc, we Philly fans will boo Vick louder than we ever did Santa.
As a dog lover and an Eagles fan, I admit to being more conflicted than most. I always got the feeling that Vick was a kid who grew up in a poor, dangerous neighborhood, and was given a ton of money, fame, and power at a very early age. Suddenly, he was playing by the new rules of a society that cared a lot about the humane treatment of dogs (as they should), but not all that much about whether he or his friends and family lived humanely for most of his life. He was punished; he served his time. It seems to me that the one way to turn someone from a dog abuser into someone with an out-and-out hatred for dogs is to rob him of his career and accomplishments, leaving him with a lot of time to get bitter and angry.
This is not really an argument at all, just a semiformulated feeling I've had throughout Vick's entire ordeal. Luckily, Raina Kelley is smarter than me, and has better articulated all these thoughts. So for all you Philadelphia fans outraged by the team's decision, please read Raina Kelley's recent plea to give Michael Vick a second chance:
If you're one of his critics who believe no punishment is too harsh (except the death penalty, I suppose), think about the price Vick paid for running a dogfighting ring. He lost his freedom, his job (including, obviously, all his endorsements), his worldly possessions, his good name, and the esteem and respect of his fellow football players. I don't know about your tolerance for pain, but that seems like an apt punishment to me. In terms of reparations, he's put a million dollars in a trust for the lifelong care of the dogs and, should he forget, even for a second, about what he did, he can head over to the National Geographic Channel and watch DogTown: Saving the Michael Vick Dogs.
We should be cognizant, also, of the young urban African-Americans who are watching this situation─we need to show them that there are second chances in life. By continuing to pummel Vick, we imply what many of them already believe to be true─that the world does not think they are worthy of redemption. Vick now has the opportunity to be the kind of role model the NFL really needs. Forgiveness and the power to transform our circumstances are supposed to be at the heart of what it is to be an American.
Kelley then goes on to remind us that Ray Lewis went on to rehabilitate his career. Ray Lewis! And let's not forget America's current love affair with convicted rapist Mike Tyson, who was last seen cavorting onstage with the Jonas Brothers. (This forgive-and-forget attitude toward sexual crime is not exclusive to athletes: see Polanski, Roman.)
The point is that we punish people for their crimes under the assumption that they can start anew once that punishment ends. This, of course, is one of the great lies of the American legal system─felons who have served their sentence have a hard time finding jobs, which leads to more felonious behavior. Michael Vick is not a victim here. But he is a graduate of the penal system, and as such he deserves another shot. Let him play football in Philly, and wait for him to break our collective hearts (they always do) by throwing interceptions and missing easy plays. Then we can boo.