Friday, August 24, 2007

Michael Vick Pleads Guilty

Well, the plea has been registered, he is suspended indefinitely, and with it the end of one public chapter in the nightmare Michael Vick inadvertently created for all of us. Soon new chapters will follow: books, interviews, self-reflections, jail house intimations, recriminations toward the media, rumors of religious conversions (Christianity or Islam optional; we assume that Hinduism's belief in the integrity of the animal soul disqualifies it from consideration), and some kind of unpredictable wild card. Even in media culture, there are things you cannot predict. Like Jim Brown actually saying on ESPN that Vick needs to make hansai.

Last year, the New Orleans Saints were one of my probational favorites. Vick's dog scandal is not exactly a Level 5 Katrina, but it has rendered the Atlanta Falcons franchise - one that has had a hard time maintaining a fan base - a deserving team. Normally, I wouldn't dream of rooting for them. Any team from a state that was once lead by George Wallace will always have a 50-year ban on my affections. Still, just imagine if Namath had been out of the Jets lineup for such an extended period of time. Actually that describes Namath from 1970-73. Oh well.

Even I am really, really ready to move on. It hasn't been easy. This is America, after all, and when celebrities collapse, it must "mean something" for all of us. It's just that usually when they fall, celebrities tend to behave not quite so monstrously as Vick did. Or maybe it's just that when famous athletes behave badly, they usually do so toward other people, and it ironically fails to disgust in quite the same way.

The controlled violence of football was not enough for Michael Vick, and in his case, he needed to literally kill the combatants who had lost their worth in his ring. Now he will have to face the metaphorical same in banishment (albeit temporary) from the league. The NAACP was hilarious in its defense of Vick's supposed dignity. According to R.L. White of the Atlanta chapter, the uproar over dogfighting is not fair "when hunting deer and other animals is perfectly acceptable."

This is absurd. No, I don't know how decent people go hunting, either. It's creepy. But a deer does not form a relationship of trust and loyalty with humans as dogs do, and I do think there is basic decency lacking in a human being if he or she is repeatedly cruel to a dog. Furthermore, if the person uses his extraordinary wealth to finance a miniature corporation of dog cruelty, then he has voluntarily shed the skin of his own humanity, and people like that are dangerous with money. He has abdicated his right to both wealth and freedom. Compassion and decency, not intimidation and fear, are at the core of real human dignity. Even rich people can find it within themselves to behave. It's been known to happen on occasion. Being nice to dogs is a good place to start.

Showing compassion to people like Michael Vick is also an interesting challenge for those whose spectator sport is reveling in the troubles of others. Me? There are other lost souls more worthy of my compassion than Vick - like Eddie Griffin, the kid who graduated from Roman Catholic High in Philly as the most highly touted high school basketball star in the country. He spent a little time at Seton Hall, then crashed to personal failure in the NBA. He died on a train track in Texas this week. He was a true lost soul. It seems only yesterday he was just some talented kid with his future ahead of him, and now it is over. There's someone worthy of sympathy - not that it can do him much good now.

Will Vick be a quarterback somewhere someday? Maybe in the CFL? Arena football? Certainly not with the Cincinnati Bengals. Will he professionally wrestle with Pacman Jones? Appear on "The Surreal Life?"

Will he try his hand at what it feels like to be in an ultimate fighting ring? To further appease the crude bloodlust of the common man, perhaps the fighting organizers will take a cue from Michael Vick and strangle their chronic losers in the ring. Football players occasionally batter their wives, but no one decries their actions with the same urgency as what people have shown Vick. I fear he is closer to the deep down norm of American violence than we like to admit.

I told you the temptation to read meaning into this madness was very strong, so I better stop now. Jim Brown - no slouch in the Big House - said that it is in these moments of bottoming out that people have the opportunity to literally remake the moral landscape of their lives - so too for Vick, I guess.

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