I think the thing that bothers me the most about Michael Vick’s reinstatement into the NFL is the idea that Vick has ‘reformed’ himself and is now redeemed and worthy of serving as a role model to kids. This is nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the prison system is designed to rehabilitate people and that people are able to change, but part of both of those processes is gaining forgiveness from those you wronged. There are two aspects to Vick’s crimes that I find upsetting. The first is the tacit implication that an animal’s life is inherently less valuable than a persons. The second is that forgiveness can be given by someone other than the wronged party.
Regarding the first, imagine if Vick had done to people what he did to dogs: Locked them up, starved them, trained them to fight, had the women raped to produce new, better offspring, then drowned, burned, and hanged those that wouldn’t or couldn’t fight. The simple answer is that Vick would have been given the death penalty and gone down in history as one of the most despicable criminals ever to live. That isn’t going to happen because of the fundamental belief that dogs are an inferior form of life, and therefore it is acceptable to treat them in a manner worse than you would treat a human. (Note: I am not a vegetarian, in fact, I had steak for dinner last night, but the difference is that the deaths of those animals served a purpose, and while one can argue the necessity or morality of eating meat, the bottom line is that the cow’s death served a necessary purpose, whereas the torture and death of Vick’s dogs served no purpose other than entertainment, which is not a morally justifiable reason to kill) Every major religion, from Judaism to Buddhism, argues that animal life is just as sacred as human life, and if you believe that God created the heavens and the earth, then it is implied that he created dogs as well, and in the absence of any specified pecking order (which the bible does not prescribe, in fact, it goes to great lengths to ensure that animals, when killed, are done so humanely) there is no reason to figure that human life is any more valuable than a dogs life. It is modern society that argues otherwise, and by accepting Vick’s return to the NFL, we are actively going against religious teachings regarding the sacred nature of animals.
The second issue, that one can be rehabilitated without forgiveness from those you wronged, gets to the issue of who exactly has been hurt by Vick’s actions? All the lives he hurt are animals, and are either dead or incapable of expressing forgiveness for what was done to them. As such, there is no one to stand up and say, “No, what you did was wrong, and I don’t forgive you.” All methods of correcting ones wrongs involve asking for forgiveness from those you wronged, from Alcoholics Anonymous to the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur where a person must ask everyone they’ve wronged in the past year for forgiveness, but Vick has no one who can stand up and forgive him, and as such, he can never truly repent for there is no one to accept his repentance. Instead of actual forgivness, Vick’s rehabilitation will be based on the third party opinions of groups like the humane society, who will undoubtedly gain financially from their public support of Vick, Tony Dungy, who has no right to speak for the animals Vick murdered, or the NFL fan base, which is perhaps the most capricious fan base in all professional sports. In other words, the only people who are expressing forgiveness of Vick are those he didn’t harm, and as a result, have no right to offer forgiveness.
I realize that none of this matters, and that the NFL fans, led by the millions of dollars worth of PR we are about to witness, will gladly follow Vick and award him forgivness and say he has been rehabilitated. There will be pictures of him holding dogs, performing acts of contrition, donating to charities, and kissing babies on the foreheads, but the only real question, and the one that truly expresses whether or not Vick can ever be forgiven, is this: If you went away for a weekend, would you let Michael Vick look after your dogs?