Michael Vick and our forgiveness problemLos Angeles Post-Examiner

Michael Vick and our forgiveness problem

“If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

It’s a phrase we often hear in society. Unfortunately, if you happen to commit a crime and end up doing your time, you are still screwed because we live in an unforgiving nation and no one sums this up better than retired pro football player, Michael Vick.

Vick’s crimes hit Americans hard because they involved animal cruelty of the worst kind. Breeding dogs to fight and killing them in the most gruesome way does not set well in a nation filled with dog lovers. When you are an all world quarterback in the NFL and you are involved in this line of side work, it makes people wonder what kind of sick human being does this when he earns millions a year to play football.

Long story short, Vick was sentenced for his crimes and served his time. Upon his release, he somehow was welcomed back in the NFL. When you have the type of physical gifts Vick had, teams will take a flyer on you.  Had Vick been a struggling backup quarterback at the time of his arrest, he never would have been heard from again.

Being given a second chance in life is something Vick has embraced. Since his release from prison, Vick has helped raise millions of dollars for programs and shelters for abused dogs. He has worked hard to leave behind his past life and friends who he was involved with and lived an exemplary life. He has been a model citizen since his release and yet he is still unable to be forgiven by animal lovers. While there is nothing wrong with still being angry over what he did, there is something wrong with wanting to make any person pay for the rest of their life after they served their time for their crime.

Michael Vick (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Wolpert/Released)

This year, the NFL named Michael Vick one of two captains in charge of selecting players for this year’s Pro Bowl game. It has resulted in hundreds of thousands of signatures on petitions asking the NFL to replace him with someone less controversial. Social media is filled with comments by folks who if they had their way would do to Vick what he did to pit bulls.

As a dog lover and owner of five, I understand their anger at what he did, but I do not understand the depth of their anger over him today. Perhaps Vick did not serve a long enough sentence for his crimes. This is not his fault. Blame the sentencing laws if you want and petition for stronger sentences in the future, but accept the fact that Michael Vick is a free man who has turned his life around, something our prison system is supposed to do but all too often fails coming close to accomplishing.

No country in the world has any many incarcerated citizens as we have. We have long since stopped trying to rehabilitate criminals and have resorted to housing them in overcrowded prisons. Just as the NFL has exploded into a major corporate entity over the last 50 years, the business of incarceration has also become incredibly profitable. For our prison system to thrive, it needs more, not fewer, people incarcerated. This means more people arrested, longer sentences, and more prisons built to house them.

This is fine if you are white, but if you are a person of color, male in particular, this does not bode well for you. An examination of arrests, convictions, and sentences handed down shows just how screwed a man of color is under our legal system. An examination of prison culture and the disparity of whites who work with in it policing the disparity of men of color serving time reinforces just how broken our prison system is.

You think landing a job fresh out of college is hard.  Try finding any work upon being released from prison that will allow you to rise above the poverty line. Career criminals are rarely born. They are created by a society that insists on punishing people long after they have served their time. If no one will hire people to do legal work after serving a prison sentence, their only option is to return to criminal activity. At worst, if they get caught, they return to prison where they are housed and fed which all too often is more appealing than life on the streets.

Like many other decisions it makes, the NFL could have selected a former player with a stellar off field image instead of Vick. Why they chose him when image and marketing are so huge during a time the league office takes hit after hit is puzzling. However, Michael Vick is not to blame for this. He did his time. He serves as a reminder that people can change and turn their lives around, which is something we can all learn a great deal from. To want to punish him for the rest of his life is telling anyone who commits a crime we have no interest in you changing or bettering yourself.

If Michael Vick succeeds by being given a second chance, we all win. If he is punished further and not given a second chance, we all lose. It costs nothing to want to see every person who is released from prison to succeed in life. It’s cheaper than the cost of incarceration. It does not require you to like the person; you just need to forgive and hope they have changed.

It also does not mean you support seeing all criminals released from prison. You just have to accept that under the sentencing laws of our land, there will be people like Michael Vick who have committed ugly crimes who go free. Personally, I hope anyone who is released from prison has learned from their mistakes and turned their life around. However, until we change how we look at people who have been incarcerated, Michael Vick will be the exception when we would all be better off if he was the norm.

Top photo: Michael Vick with the Philadelphia Eagles, by Mr. Schultz via Wikipedia



About the author

James Moore

Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program. Contact the author.

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