In Defense of Michael Vick

Michael Vick, former electrifying NFL quarterback, current convicted felon and greatest alias-creator the world has ever known (Ron Mexico), pleaded guilty on state charges this past November. He received a suspended sentence, which resolves his remaining criminal charges, but of course, he’s currently cooling his heels in a federal prison camp in Leavenworth, Kansas, on a 23-month federal bid that will last until July 20. And his epically desperate financial situation has also been recently exposed: He lost roughly $100 million in salary and endorsements from this dog-fighting mess, and filed for bankruptcy protection last summer.

Now that the dust has settled on the 2008-09 season, let’s look ahead to next summer, when the fur will fly anew as Vick is released from prison just as NFL training camps are getting under way. I, for one, will be wondering when enough is enough. There’s a Hungarian phrase about overcompensation that refers to “falling off the other side of the horse.” The Vick bashers have toppled over the far side of this particular horse, and then, to paraphrase another old saying, turned and beaten the thing to death and kept on flogging.

But I think the reaction has been too freighted all along. I think a significant percentage of people simply have no sense of perspective when it comes to animals—or at least animals that can be used as pets. I begin my sermon with a couple of anecdotes, but bear with me; they have a point.

In the early 1990s I was living in a court apartment complex fronting Eastlake Avenue in Seattle, Washington. Eastlake is a long straight road that connects downtown Seattle to the University District. It gets a fair amount of traffic. The I-5 overpass towered above my humble Bukowskian digs, so I had the steady drone of traffic in front and above. Yeah, I was going places.

Miraculously, I had convinced a girl to share this perpetually damp, mildewy one-bedroom railroad apartment with me. She was like the apple juice: very fine. Long legs, big brown eyes, sprinkle of freckles across nose and cheekbones. I was woefully ill-equipped to resist this combination.

One night as we were about to climb up into the rickety sleeping loft I’d built (think Gene Hackman’s carpentry in Unforgiven) we heard a horrific scream down on Eastlake. And when I say horrific I mean acutely suggestive of both blood and murder. It cut through the traffic noise and stilled the air in our bedroom. We exchanged a look, and I bolted out the door.

I wasn’t alone. The whole apartment complex came pouring out of its doors to find a woman, bent at the waist in the glare of her headlights, unleashing horror-movie scream after horror-movie scream over the soon-to-be lifeless body of … a cat.

There was a light steam rising off the animal, and as we all watched, it shuddered one last time and lay still. Against all reasonable expectations, this woman found another gear, another pitch, for her blood-curdling screams. Only now they no longer curdled my blood, but boiled it. I looked down. I was in my underwear. I had been summoned, by an existential alarm, by a signal that tapped into a universal sense of shared humanity and pulled me, quite involuntarily, but unhesitatingly, out into a situation that could have been deadly. In my fucking underwear. And for what? A cat?!

Don’t get me wrong: I love cats. I owned a cat at the time—a big orange tabby named Tyler—and I knew the deceased, so to speak. He was a svelte gray one with green eyes who lived in a downstairs unit of our court. I felt bad, sure, but … seriously. Lady. Get some perspective.

Anecdote the Second took place a couple years later, and fed my growing suspicions that an alarming number of pet owners are several deep shades of crazy. I was back on the East Coast, in Fairfield County, Connecticut. If you’ve spent any time in this swank, woodsy, New York City suburb you know that it’s too fancy to foul up its meandering roads with streetlights of any kind.

I was driving one of these unlit roads, sober as a judge, going the speed limit, when I came over a slight rise and vaguely noticed a figure in the pitch-black darkness of the shoulder of the road, waving its arms at me. I looked back at the road and saw a bulldog square in my headlights, striking an exact replica pose of the Mack Truck icon: no leash, standing strong and stout and proud…and shit! ! I hit the brakes but it was too late. Thwack! Thump-thump-thump. Fuck!

I slowed down and pulled over. I’d never hit a dog before; I was in shock and I felt terrible, and it seemed like the right thing to do. It wasn’t—for all parties concerned. If I’d just carried on, the dog owners would have been able to curse me down through the ages as the Unknown Driver Who Plowed Into Our Beloved Fido After We Let Him Trot Unleashed Into the Middle of a Pitch Black Road and I could’ve convinced myself that Fido survived the encounter. Maybe.

As it happened, by stopping I just gave them a target for their terrible, wrathful grief. I came out of the car with profuse apologies but was shortly shouted down by not one but two college-aged daughters of this genteel Connecticut clan who sputtered and swore at me like two schizophrenics off their meds. I can’t imagine how the reaction would have been more extreme if it had been their child lying in the road and not a (former) English Bulldog.

They were about ten feet from me when, much like the Crazy Cat Lover of Eastlake Avenue, the two debutants found another gear. They ramped up their bitter vituperation. It was now at the level of furious invective. It was a keening, wailing, sustained, bitter railing and condemnation of me. And they kept coming.

That’s when I realized I’d just be intruding clumsily on a private moment of naked grief and fury by staying any longer, so I got back in my car and drove off, a little shaky, to my wife’s parents’ house. I found my brother-in-law in the kitchen and told him what had happened. He could see that I was unsettled, but still couldn’t help laughing a little in between consoling words. And then a lot.

His response, and a double whiskey, eventually restored some perspective, but remembering these two stories, not to mention other tales of bat-shit crazy animal lovers—check out PETA’s recent sea kittens campaign )—got me thinking about Michael Vick’s precipitous fall. Did his punishment really fit his crime? When Vick gets out next summer, he will have served nearly two years in Leavenworth, lost all of his wealth, and more likely than not, his last best chance at doing what he was born to do, play football.

Look, I recognize that defending a man who has admitted to hanging and drowning dogs is an uphill battle, at best, but someone has to do it. Seriously. This story has generated some of the wildest hysteria this side of the Barbaro message boards. The federal sentencing guidelines for Vick’s crime recommend 12 to 18 months. He got 23—and a bracing dose of financial ruin. There’s no question that public opinion had an influence on this outcome.

Vick’s crimes were sickening and cruel, but the man has paid an Argentina-in-1989 inflationary price for them. It’s time to leave him alone. How many of Vick’s bashers have heard of Leonard Little, the St. Louis Rams defensive end, who, after boozing it up on his birthday in 1998, hopped in his car and ran a stoplight, slamming into another car and killing its driver, a human being named Susan Gutweiler? Mrs. Gutweiler had a husband and a 15-year-old kid. Little got 90 days in jail, 1,000 hours of community service, and was suspended for eight games of the following season by the NFL.

Cut to 2004, when Little was arrested again and charged with felony DUI and speeding. Was this the first and only time since ’98 that Little had gotten behind the wheel while tipsy? Maybe. But it seems unlikely; it seems more likely to have been the tip of his iceberg-sized problem poking through again, and indeed, Little was charged as a “persistent offender.” He refused a breathalyzer at the station and was eventually only convicted of misdemeanor speeding, but the NFL, and the greater public, were deafeningly silent on the matter. Little hasn’t missed a game since, and in 2006, he inked a three-year, $19.5 million contract extension that included a $6.1 million signing bonus.

Vick, who was reared in a culture that sanctions dog fighting, has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL, and is a societal pariah. Little had six sacks for the Rams this past season, amid no discernible outrage at his presence on the field. Imagine the scene that will greet Vick if he ever sets foot inside an NFL stadium again. It will be like something out of Hieronymus Bosch. But here’s hoping he gets to face it.

The author’s pseudonym was provided by the Ron Mexico Name Generator.

I heart sea kittens!

— Ron St. Kitts    Feb 17, 01:04 PM    #

excellent post. I agree 100% that the punishment for Vick greatly exceeded the crime. People went crazy over this crime b/c it was novel and Vick just looked like a bad guy. Another comparison is the Kobe Bryant case, where there was nowhere near the outrage when he was facing rape allegations like there was when Vick was facing cruelty allegations. I hope Vick is able to find a position with another team.

— Todd    Feb 17, 01:49 PM    #

After some confusion about the age of the CT girls, caused by my editing, I added “college-aged” to clear things up. -ed.

Austin    Feb 17, 02:07 PM    #

Nice. I’ve been having this argument with delusional dog owners since this all started. The attachment to animals is something I will never comprehend. I quit arguing with it, I just accept it. Everytime I go for my morning run and just-miss stepping in dog shit, I curse dog owners.

Daniel    Feb 17, 02:08 PM    #

Vick’s financial ruin was entirely deserved and not truly attributable to the dog fighting.

He managed his finances poorly. Very, very poorly if he needed that future income stream to avoid bankruptcy. NFL contracts are not guaranteed and an injury can happen at any time. Any player w/even a little bit of common sense should be prepared to lose their salary in an instant.

I’m too lazy to look it up, but I’m sure Vick made well in excess of $20m in salary and endorsements before the dog fighting – to be bankrupt means he spent $20m + $1 (basically). So he’s a moron – and a cruel one at that.

Crazy Joe    Feb 17, 02:19 PM    #

First of all, I agree that human life>animal life. However, to compare Vick’s and Little’s situations using this is too simple. The act committed is more important than the outcome when judging the person’s actions.

Leonard Little committed the act of drinking and driving. It was stupid and irresponsible. the outcome was that he caused an accident and a woman died – a horrible outcome. A worse outcome than a dog dying. Had he driven drunk and not been involved in an accident, no one would know, the outcome would be different, but the act would be the same.

Vick, on the other hand, committed the act of torture and murder (substitute some other word if you don’t think “murder” applies to animals) of dogs – dog fighting financing aside – he electrocuted and hung dogs. Here, although the outcome was less significant than human life lost, the act itself was more bizzarre, uncommon, and arguably worse.

Many people drive drunk (which they shouldn’t). Most don’t end in fatalities. Very few people torture and murder dogs. The act of committing torture and murder of a sentient animal is worse than the act of driving drunk, because the person committing the act is clearly able to see the outcome when committing the act. No one drives drunk knowing that they will kill someone (although they must know it’s a possibility). No one tortures and kills animals without knowing that’s what they are doing.

Jon    Feb 17, 02:21 PM    #

So you initially felt bad after running over a dog and were able to recognize the the owners were in a state of “naked grief and fury” but once you got home and your brother-in-law laughed at you, you got over it and realized you were silly to feel that way. Dude, you’re far more f*cked in the head than any overly-doting animal lover I’ve ever met.

sig    Feb 17, 02:24 PM    #

I will take dogs over whiny brats whose parents think of them as “special little snowflakes” any day of the week. I’d rather see them get hit by cars. Vick deserved everything he got and his actions exhibited the same patterns seen in seriel killers.

Matt    Feb 17, 02:25 PM    #

I agree… people go too far when it comes to animals. I do think we should not eat any more Sea Kittens however, so for dinner I will have some Land Cow… see, I feel better already!

Chris    Feb 17, 02:32 PM    #

I agree with the basis of your argument, that the punishment outweighed the crime, but you have a messed up way of justifying that position. Unfortunately you also professed a love for cats so I am going to have to disregard everything you said regardless.

Matt    Feb 17, 02:42 PM    #

I agree that the public’s reaction to Vick’s crimes has been over-the-top. However, I think that it has much more to do with latent racism, than with an inappropriate love of animals.

That said, I was struck by an alarming lack of sensitivity on the part of the author.

Andrew    Feb 17, 02:42 PM    #

I would say the punishment for Leonard Little was far far far too light, not that the punishment for Vick was too harsh.

— Mark    Feb 17, 02:52 PM    #

“Look, I recognize that defending a man who has admitted to hanging and drowning dogs is an uphill battle, at best, but someone has to do it.”

Unfortunately for Vick, he was about as lucky to have you volunteer for the job as he was in having quick-thinking relatives smart enough not to lead police to the headquarters of his dogfighting empire.

As far as I can tell, two anecdotes of people becoming distraught when their pets were struck and killed by cars is clear and convincing evidence that poor Ron Mexico was scapegoated beyond all justification because Americans irrationally value the lives of their pets. Maybe they do, but I’m pretty sure there’s a happy medium between irrational valuation of animal lives and “gaining perspective” by laughing off the fact that you just killed someone’s pet with your car, even accidentally.

Add a stretched reference to the Plan Primavera and the dazzling logic of “Leonard Little didn’t get in enough trouble for what he did so we should take it easy on Mike” and you’ve got some first-rate knowledge being dropped by this “literary sports journal.”

I’m not surprised that the author was too cowardly to post the article under his own name, if that was the summation of my efforts in building a case for Michael Vick’s redemption I’d hide behind a pseudonym too.

All in all, what I’ll take from this “journalistic endeavor” is that it’s still evidence that we’re well beyond the saturation point with sports blogs and the less read ones have to opt for outrageousness in order to garner any attention at all. I would’ve expected Deadspin to vet their links a little better than this one.

Joe Williams    Feb 17, 02:53 PM    #

They got upset and emotional when you ran over their dog? What DICKS!

Vic Tayback    Feb 17, 03:18 PM    #

Right on “Ricardo.” I have a dog that i love, have had many others while growing up, and one thing I never forget that my dog is a DOG. Not a person. And furthermore, Michael Vick wasn’t killing YOUR dog. He was killing dogs, but not YOUR dog. To the author, your view is not outrageous, your rationale is funny(i think), and people in general just need to worry about their own life, not others.
@Mark, dude, this is EXACTLY what a Deadspin link is

Phil    Feb 17, 03:40 PM    #

sure his punishment was harsh and he lost money and a his career…..but those in high places have farther to fall….
his celebrity got him the longer sentence and took away his fortune….if he was a garabge man, he would have likely been punished less…..but the garbage man isn’t on tv 16 sundays a year, making millions of dollars, and a role model to kids….

his huge fall is directly related to huge rise……

but like anyone who serves their time, and does so with no known problems and protest deserves to get a shot to rise again.

i loved mike vick…now to me he is a joke, but it goes much further than his dog killing conviction….it is based on a series of poor decisions that date back to his college days… the past i could overlook smaller issues, but when you add the dog killing on top of it, the other offenses make more sense….
he had a poor upbringing and hangs with low lifes, and most of all makes poor decisions….

at his young age and the amout of money he had, not to mention the fame, he had the world by the balls and gave it all away….yes, gave….anyone in their right mind, no matter what culture (and i was raised in teh 757, too) knows that the general population loves animals, especially dogs, and that fighting them, breeding, them and killing them for sport is not acceptable….

like i said. once he is out he deserves a shot, but it will not be an easy road by any means….

i just hope he has learned his lesson and has really decided to go down a better path….you would think he has

— a hokie fan    Feb 17, 04:26 PM    #

People often project human rights onto animals, which is an inappropriate practice. An animal is a creature of instinct whereas humans can act in opposition to our instincts, which makes us creatures of morality. We should not assert that an animal has the same inherent right to life as a human, especially when anyone in the country can buy a permit to legally shoot and kill animals for pleasure.

Case in point: the SI article about the 60 dogs that the government recovered from the Vick kennel. PETA recommended that all the dogs be euthanized using the logic that, like a human, a dog that has witnessed or been subjected to brutal horrors would be too traumatized to live in reasonable safety and harmony with human beings and other dogs. To make a long story short, the people who tried to save the dogs from euthanization found-shockingly!-that only 3 or 4 of the dogs exhibited behavior that was too violent for them to be able to coexist with humans, which is probably the same percentage that you’d find out of any random sampling of 60 pitbulls.

I agree 100% with the author. People attach themselves to pets, cars and laptops as if they were family members and we often care too much about the wrong things.

Jrak    Feb 17, 04:37 PM    #

Dear Dumb Fuck,

Leonard Little is a murdering scumbag that deserves to be in jail for manslaughter. Period. The fact that he isn’t and the fact that you need to defend Michael Vick means that we, as a nation, are obsessed with idiots who can run catch and tackle as much if not more than pets. Vick served his time. Fine. That doesn’t mean that he gets to play in the NFL ever again, nor should he.

As far as your “anecdotal” evidence, dumb fuck, what’s your point?

A woman saw her cat get run over. It’s a violent death to a member of her “family.” What do you expect her to do?

And then you run over a dog? And you’re upset that the family is mad at you? Why don’t you watch where you’re going, dumb fuck? If you ran over my dog you wouldn’t be writing any columns, you’d be sitting in a nursing home, sipping at your sippy cup.

And way to man up, by writing this anonymously.

In closing, go fuck yourself, dumb fuck.

Chris    Feb 17, 04:39 PM    #

Hey, Chris, way to prove his point. No, animal owners aren’t overly irrational about their pets at all – you would just put him in a nursing home after he accidentally ran over your stupid dog that you should keep out of the freaking road while obeying all the laws of safe driving. Ridiculous.

Jon    Feb 17, 05:34 PM    #

Why shouldn’t he get to play in the nfl again you peta faggot? the mans had his life ruined, served 5 months over the federal guidelines, and lost all of his money, what happned to second chances? im sure if you commited a crime, did your time, and got out theyd let you pump gas at the shell again pussy. All you are, chris, is an irrational animal loving freak who is too self righteos to think about givig a man a chance to turn his life around. you are the dumb fuck, you go fuck yourself and if i ever see you ima go mike vick on you as if you were the pitbull you faggot ass pussy piece of shit

pete    Feb 17, 05:38 PM    #

Post your name buddy…let us know how to contact you…please..So we can let you know how we really feel you doucher.You belong in a class with Vick—with little—and with that illiterate fuck holding up the “ don’t listen to them haters” sign…is steven a smith driving your short bus or is it rob parker…shitbrains

— Kedzie    Feb 17, 05:38 PM    #

He’s far too much of a coward to publish under his own name. Taking a controversial stance is one thing, but doing so while hiding behind anonymity makes it clear that the writer lacks the courage of his convictions and is just writing to get attention.

— Ron M.    Feb 17, 07:02 PM    #

Hey Chris,
Where do you live? I’m going to run over your dog. Repeatedly. Let’s see what really happens.

— Keith    Feb 17, 09:37 PM    #

What about Phelps, should we start calling him a stupid pot head? I doubt that cause he is americas apple pie. Michael Vick is serving a sentance that is more than Six Pack Joe, Sally Joe (Soccer Mom) and Apple Pie would ever serve. Why? Cause he is black. What a shame!

John Thumb    Feb 17, 10:56 PM    #

running over a cat and getting your rocks off by torturing dogs are two completely different things. vick got what he deserved.

tom    Feb 18, 10:17 AM    #

Great read. I think the perception of Vick played out much differently in the Midwest/West/East Coast than it did in the South. Frankly, most people that grow up in the South have some knowledge and/or exposure to dog fighting, even if they’ve never seen it or participated in it.

These pet owners need to stop and take a look at some slaughter house video. If they’re that upset about Vick, they sure as hell shouldn’t be eating a burger anytime soon.

Evan    Feb 18, 10:44 AM    #

I get where this guy is coming from, in theory. However, fuck Micheal Vick. Fuck anyone who thinks that life is only valuable when it comes in human form. Sure, I’d rather a dog die than say, my mother. But guess who’s not gonna kill either one? Yeah, fuck you Vick.

— Scott    Feb 18, 11:01 AM    #

Wow. You are one callous individual. I got a rabbit you can run over with your hate truck whenever the mood strikes you.

— Randy    Feb 18, 11:42 AM    #

You’re silly. Vick maliciously killed dogs. Regardless of what you think is an over reaction from someone you didn’t know ten years ago, Vick got what he deserved and I hope he’s being mistreated in prison. There are no repercussions for athletes today and this is a great step forward.

And you’re wrong. Nobody has to defend Vick and nobody should. How can you defend what he did to those animals? You’re an idiot and an attention whore.

— Bill    Feb 18, 12:17 PM    #

God Bless You, Sir.

I’ve been screaming since the day he was arrested that Vick got the railroad treatment. It’s a sickening comment on our society that this guy had his life ruined… RUINED… because PETA and the like got really, really upset. Because of DOGS. Disgusting animals that eat their own sht.

I wish Vick nothing but the best, and pray that those of us with a sliver of sense soon regain control of society.

— Mr Bill    Feb 18, 02:00 PM    #

People who feel that Vick’s punishment didn’t fit the crime are missing the point. He suffered such severe consequences because he lied…and not just to some jerk-off reporter, but to the federal government. Not a good course of action. Just ask Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, who themselves may end up incarcerated, not because of what they did, but because of lying about it in the aftermath.

Yes, cruelty to animals is disgusting, but does tend to be blown out of proportion by a small group of sensationalists. What far too many people overlook however, is the money trail of ventures like dog fighting often leading to cash for trafficking of illegal drugs and weapons.

Those are the reasons why Mr. Vick became an unwilling guest of the Feds, not because of killings dogs.

— Alan G    Feb 18, 02:51 PM    #

So we should feel sorry for Michael Vick because of this? The same Michael Vick who assumed sneaking marijuana onto a plane in a bottle of water was a good idea got busted for the illegal dogfighting ring he was running in his house, and we’re surprised about this?

All you proved with the Leonard Little argument is that the NFL is completely screwed up when you consider the harsh sentence Ricky Williams received because he smoked some pot. There are many, many criminals in the NFL let pass and the League needs to take a better look at its athletes rather than just look to entertain.

Your antecdotes don’t help your cause they make your defence sounds worse, and then not posting your name? Stand up for yourself! Hiding behind your keyboard takes even more away from your argument.

All this points out is how backwards and messed up professional sports are in America, nothing more.

— Mike    Feb 18, 03:29 PM    #

I think Michael Vick served his time and should be allowed to return to the NFL. I believe that more people feel this way than don’t. The animal rights people are just more vocal. There also is an element that want to see him continue to be punished because of jealously over the status and money he had as a football player. I also think there is a racial piece to some of the hostility. His sentence was longer than average for a person who commits such a crime. He’s paid the price for his misdeeds and deserves a second chance.

Sharon J    Feb 19, 10:10 AM    #

yea man

meatball    Feb 24, 07:51 AM    #



  1. living for justice

    The man tortured dogs for entertainment. he sent his children’s pets into fight for fun. Nothing can make up for this. ever. In a sane and kind world, this is beyond redemption – if he wants forgiveness – he needs to invest money in improving the lives of pits.. he probably traumatized his own kids .. and does not care about what he did – then again i dont expect football culture to give acrap..about dogs – it cares less about humans,

  2. living for justice

    Why is a dog not worthy of care and justice?

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