I’m usually somewhat of a left-leaning centrist in many regards. But the Michael Vick situation is something where I find myself aligning with no one.
Not the side of those who claim he is a monster, nor with those who insist he’s innocent. Not with those who say NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was right to reinstated him, and not with those who say Vick should have been banned for life.
As I’ve seen this debate split along racial lines, I’m neither on the side of black nor white. Truth is, this story is bigger than race, dogs or even Michael Vick.
Like Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Vick is merely the popular pawn who sparked a national discussion. And as President Obama said in relation to the Gates situation, this, too, has a teachable moment. The problem is who is doing the teaching and who is being taught.
During the 1996/1997 season, 21 percent of the NFL’s active players had been charged with serious crimes. In 2006, the late and legendary executive director of the NFL’s Players Association, Gene Upshaw, said that, out of all of the issues concerning the league, off-the-field conduct was the “one that concerns me most.” Nothing has truly changed (Plaxico Burress and Donte Stallworth dominated the national news with their behavior).
I’ve been in countless conversations with friends who have suggested that the government favors dogs over black people. That’s irrelevant. Vick broke the law — period.
I recognize that he, like you and I, is an imperfect man. He committed a terrible crime. He properly and cooperatively paid his debt to the state, both with his money and his time. I sense nothing but genuineness and sincerity in his apology. I truly wish the best for him.
And, yes, people do deserve a second chance. However, the NFL should not be the organization to give him that second chance.
Why is the NFL seen as Vick’s sole opportunity for redemption? There are plenty of other leagues like the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League, of which I am a particular fan.
No, Vick will not be making $130 million over ten years (which is still the largest NFL contract ever). But if he is truly humbled, and if the NFL is ever going to put a dent in this unsettling pattern, the league must start somewhere.
Sure, Vick has learned from his crime. But the lesson, ultimately, should not be for him. It’s for those who will come after him. It’s for those millions of kids who own his jersey and Madden ’04, which features Vick on the cover. For the kid like my little cousin who, like Vick, is extremely talented, but hasn’t grasped the importance of school. For the kids like those who I personally witnessed while I was a student at Independence High School, who passed their classes because of the way they could pass a football.
Victor Hugo once said, “Where there is darkness, crimes will be committed. The guilty one is not just he who commits the crime, but he who causes the darkness.” We, as a culture, have caused the darkness. Now it’s up to us to bring some light. And in this case, that, unfortunately, should begin with Michael Vick. Instead, in the end, despite all the intricacies and details of the case, it goes down as simply one more time the NFL allows someone to commit a crime and make millions.
Morals walk. Money talks. That’s the American way.
Malcolm Scott Eustache is a senior majoring in journalism at North Carolina A&T State University and is managing editor of the A&T Register.