Monday, August 17, 2009
Anyone who knows me knows that I am an increasingly avid sports fan. I have changed my cable provider so that I can watch the Phillies almost daily. I frequently wear team gear for the Phillies and Yankees. And although I am more of a baseball fan than football these days, in the winter you can observe me in my Eagles gear. But even if I weren't following sports so closely, I would have been hard-pressed to miss all of the hullabaloo engendered by the recent signing of Michael Vick to the Philadelphia Eagles football team.
For those of you who have been in a cave, Michael Vick, formerly a ProBowl caliber quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, just completed an 18-month sentence for charges related to a dog-fighting operation he ran out of his home in Virginia. A couple weeks ago he was reinstated to the NFL, although he remains suspended for an as yet undetermined number of games. He was available. The Eagles signed him. Animal rights activists and dog-loving fans, especially in Philadelphia, had a fit.
This brings me to the question that prompts this blog: What do they want? Michael Vick served time for heinous cruelty and has seen his life and fortune dismantled. Is he never supposed to work again? Is he forever to be shunned from all polite company? Was he simply supposed to die in prison? Or is it okay from him to be released and to work, but just not to make a lot of money or to be truly successful and potentially celebrated as a great quarterback? I want to say to the detractors, I know you don't want him to do this, but what's the alternative? I know, I know: Throw him to the dogs.
Now hear me, I'm not one of those sanctimonious types who judgmentally declares that we should not judge others. Clearly, Michael Vick has some restitution to make, but he can never make such restitution if we don't acknowledge that redemption and righting wrongs are possible.
To make a larger and perhaps more important point, as individuals and as a society we have to figure out how to reintegrate people who have messed up in a way that both acknowledges their wrongs and their potential. We can neither fail to punish wrongs, nor continue to punish forever.