Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Do It Right

Two weeks ago, the New York Jets signed quarterback Michael Vick to a contract worth a reported $5 million.  This is a man convicted of long-term involvement in a dogfighting operation so brutal and sadistic, I will not go into details here.  If you need specifics, you can link here to the case study by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, but be warned; I wish I did not know people could enjoy such cruelty.
And Michael Vick, this convicted felon who personally participated in the torture and killing of animals bred for companionship and loyalty to humans, was not only reinstated by the NFL, but continues to be extremely well-paid.  He is held up as a hero.
It’s a notion I find difficult to reconcile with my general view that life is good, people are good.  Dogs have consistently enriched my life, often leaving me in awe of their capacity for trust, loyalty and forgiveness.  The idea that a person could enjoy causing harm to such amazing creatures is beyond me, and that such a person could be embraced by a team sports community to the tune of many millions of dollars is unfathomable.
In my heart, I’ve held my own little boycott of the NFL since Vick was reinstated in 2009.  But as the Super Bowl is the only game I’ve ever watched in full (and okay…I admit it…I watch for the commercials), I suspect the NFL isn’t exactly missing me.
What, then, could I possibly do?
As I laced up my shoes for a run the other day, the light bulb went on.  That little Nike swoosh on my running shoes, my socks, my swim suits, even my sports bras.  That’s the logo of a company that has defended their continued relationship with Michael Vick.  As the saying goes, every dollar you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want.
I realized that with every dollar I spent on Nike sports gear, with every step I ran or stroke I swam adorned with that swoosh logo, I was voting for Michael Vick.
Perhaps I should have thought twice about spending money on Nike products when they stood by the likes of Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong.  Those are two deeply flawed people, and their actions certainly hurt others.  The distinction, though, is an important one.  Are we really surprised when it turns out some sports superstars are self-centered egomaniacs?  That they would lie to their wives, cheat their fans?  Probably not.  But we should be surprised - and deeply concerned - when it turns out one is a sadist.
I’ve heard a number of arguments in defense of Michael Vick’s continued sports stardom.  That he made a mistake, for example.  We all make mistakes, right?  We’re all human.
Michael Vick did not make a mistake.  He didn’t have a bad day and kick a puppy in a moment of anger.  The sadism involved in the Michael Vick case is beyond disturbing. This is not a crime for which one can do his time and return to be a productive member of society. This is a violent individual who should not be held up as a hero in any sphere. And make no mistake about it; NFL players are heroes to kids everywhere.  
I’ve also heard the argument that Michael Vick served his time and should be allowed to get on with his life.  Yes, he served his time (light as the sentence was).  That’s all well and good.  Let him live out his life in quiet infamy.  Preferably far, far away from me.  Don’t give him a platform and a pedestal.
As for the argument that Michael Vick is truly sorry for his behavior and intends to become a better person, that’s between him and a higher power.  He certainly couldn’t become a worse person, and I do hope he knows that.  I hope he thinks back on the torture he found funny (funny!) and feels a remorse equivalent to the suffering he caused.  I hope it’s true that he’s changed, though personally I don’t think I’d ever believe it.
Yet the fact remains: even if he has changed, Michael Vick did things too evil to undo.  He may be deserving of forgiveness, but he is not deserving of an NFL jersey.  He is certainly not deserving of the lucrative contract Nike has bestowed upon him.
Think of how many hardworking young athletes would love a chance to play as Vick does, to be adored as Vick is.  Michael Vick is not so special as to be irreplaceable.  I always believed the greatest lessons in athletics were about being one’s best self.  It’s time to teach kids that success means being not just a good ball player, but a good person.
So I bid adieu to my Nike gear.  I’m just one little person, a slow runner and occasional sprint triathlete.  I don’t imagine Nike will miss me any more than the NFL does.  But if you share my feelings about Michael Vick’s crimes, you can pile up your Nike gear and toss it, too.  You can vote with your dollars, your miles logged in training and races, the sweat you leave on the field of your favorite sport.
You and I can tell Nike that it’s not enough to “just do it.”
You have to do it right.
P.S.  Brooks’ entire line of running shoes are vegan, if that matters to you.  They’re replacing the swooshes on my feet.
Check out this excellent New York Post opinion piece, Why We Can’t Forget Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Past.

And while most dogs rescued from dogfighting rings either die or are euthanized shortly thereafter, a few of the approximately 50 live dogs taken from Michael Vick's Bad Newz Kennels went through an extensive rehabilitation process and found new lives.  Dogtown documented their stories.  Just keep the Kleenex handy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Karen -- this is such an important post. I have such a deep and abiding love for dogs. I feel absolutely devastated when they are abused. There is something so trusting, so desirous of our approval and companionship, that the thought of abusing a creature like that pains me to the core. It's so unfortunate that sports heroes are so frequently unheroic. Thanks for this.