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As a quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons in 2004, Michael Vick led his team to the National Football Conference championship game. That season he passed for 2,313 yards, and ran for 902 yards, more than many other starting running backs that year. He was an up-and-coming star and one of the most electrifying players in the National Football League. However, all the fanfare, endorsements, and emulation ended after Vick was indicted for his central role in a dog-fighting ring that went under the name of Bad Newz Kennels. As more and more gruesome details came out about the treatment and killing of the dogs, Vick’s fall from grace came swiftly. The public and the Justice Department had every right to be disgusted at his behavior, and there was substantial cause for his subsequent imprisonment. What does not follow reason, however, is the negative sentiment that still follows Vick, who abided by all of the sanctions put on him.
Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison and after he voluntarily surrendered early to authorities he served 19 of those in prison. Because of good behavior, he spent the remaining months on probation at his home. During that time he maintained employment (as part of his probation rules), by working for a construction company and as a summer youth aide at a Boys and Girls Club. Following his release Vick has spent a large amount of his time on tour with the Humane Society of the United States, speaking at events aimed at ending urban dog fighting. He has continued this partnership into 2010. As for the dogs that were discovered in Vick’s kennel, he has also followed court orders by paying for their rehabilitation and adoption.
While his volunteering and repenting words and efforts received little attention, he did regain national recognition when the Philadelphia Eagles signed him in August 2009 for a one-year contract. The public reaction to this move was no different than his treatment than that preceding his jail time, with protests, outrage, and shock over the Eagles’ decision.
This continued pernicious treatment of Vick is void of any forgiveness or any recognition of his concordance with his sentence. Michael Vick committed a crime, a violent and gruesome crime, and was punished for it by our legal system. But, Vick has fulfilled the exact punishment given to him, served his jail time, completed his probation program gracefully, and has since gone on to advocate for the exact opposite of his criminal actions. By not developing a more nuanced view of this man, opponents devalue and discredit the severity of imprisonment and the genuine effort put into rebuilding one’s character and reputation.
If there is no chance for Vick, or anyone who has done wrongs to receive public forgiveness, then no incentive exists for them to make up for their misdeeds. We should not forget or hide Vick’s past, but tying him only to his mistakes veils the positive steps he has taken for himself, for the animal-rights movement, and for the rehabilitative capacity of the American justice system.
Michael Vick is again in the news, when recently, as a back up for the Eagles, the starting quarterback was sidelined due to a concussion. Stepping in, Vick once again is a starting quarterback in the NFL, 44 months since the last time he has held that position. As quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, Vick has passed for 750 yards and six touchdowns in just three games. Mindful of both his troubled past and improving present, I am amazed at his ability on the football field. Just as in 2004, I root for Michael Vick.
Marcel E. Moran ’11, a former Crimson associate editorial editor, is a human evolutionary biology concentrator in Eliot House.
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