A few words on Michael Vick

November 18, 2010

Halfway through the NFL season Michael Vick is one of the leading candidates for the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

I think I am rooting for him.

And I wonder why this is.

I still have trouble wrapping my head around the crimes Vick committed. I still wonder if he genuinely understands how monstrous his actions were. I hope so, but if I had to guess I’d guess he’s still baffled, and probably aggrieved, at the punishment he was given. I would speculate that he still sees himself as a kind of victim. I hope I am wrong, but in any case Vick doesn’t owe me or anyone else a confession. He did his time. I hope he’s a better person, but knowing people I suspect he’s not.

Yet at least part of me wants to see him do well.

I could say this is because I am rooting for Vick’s example, that it might inspire others who’ve fallen from grace. Or I could say it is because I am for for forgiveness, for second and even third chances; that having benefited from mercy, I feel inclined to be merciful in turn. Sometimes I think this is even true.

I want to see Tiger Woods come back and win more major championships. I wish Bud Selig would reinstate Pete Rose (with conditions) and allow him to become eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Maybe it is because I don’t have many illusions about sports and what makes people good at them. Athletes are not great because they have great character. Some of them are no doubt good people, but the best of them are all killers. They all own their specialness, even if they’ve feel to act humble.

Some sportswriters and some coaches encourage the myth that sports are somehow ennobling because it suits the way they want the world presented and received. Some of them need for sports to be more than sports and I suppose that is OK though I think it’s sentimental and cheap. I don’t think sports is a metaphor for anything, it simply — as the athletes say — is what it is.

That I care about sports means nothing more (or less) than other people caring about who wins an Academy Award or what celebrity is shagging what other celebrity.

So anyway, I guess I do not have to “like” Michael Vick to enjoy the way he plays his game. But I don’t really dislike him either. We have no relationship, he and I, for me he exists as a bunch of pixels flashing on a screen.

I have a job that regularly brings me into the orbit of the famous, and I can report to you that, for the most part, they are more like us than they are different. We are the same species. We are generally as spoiled and vain as they are.

But great athletes have a qualified coldness within themselves, a place where they can go where nothing matters so much as winning — which is really nothing more complicated than making their opponent lose.
There were lots of things I lacked as an athlete — speed, strength, fast twitch muscle fiber and I wish I’d had those attributes.

But I am glad I never cultivated that so-called “killer instinct” — however well it may have served me on the court it would have made living with myself hell. I have it in me to take my foot off the gas, to let someone who wants it more — who needs it more — win.

I’m not saying I didn’t always try, I’m just saying I can live with myself as second-best, that being beaten doesn’t particularly bother me. I like the competition, I like to play the game, but — count it a deficit if you must — the difference between winning and losing for me is not so vast.

I think it is OK to have heroes, but I think we should know that excellence in any particular endeavor doesn’t correspondence to moral distinction. Michael Vick is who he is because of what he’s done and what was done to him — he turned out differently than you or me and all of that is not his fault, or yours or mine.

I like this football player. I do not know this man.


6 Comments

  • Comment by Uncleredeye — Nov 18,2010 at 3:15 pm

    Redemption. If it doesn’t happen for others, can it happen for me? If the cockiest man since Achilles can find deliverance perhaps I have a shot.

  • Comment by tmfw — Nov 18,2010 at 3:34 pm

    Well, apart from his attendance at that party last summer where somebody discharged a weapon, he has kept his nose clean. He has said all the right things, and otherwise fulfilled the terms of his employment and his probation. In law enforcement, they don’t much care so much if your changed behavior is due to a repentant heart. Fear of a return to the joint is good enough for them.

    And that’s where so many of these athletes get into trouble. Due to their vast wealth, their sycophantic friends, their lack of any structure off the field and the fact that many of these guys grow up in a culture where empathy is devalued, they have no concept of adverse consequences. How else can you explain a dumbass like Roger Clemons thinking he could actually talk his way past a Congressional Commitee that was armed to the teeth with lawyers and investigators?

    I’m rooting for Michael Vick too. His actions thus far seem to indicate that he has learned his lesson which is all that we as society can ask of any convict. What lesson he has learned I do not know and is pretty much none of our business.

  • Comment by blind willie mctell — Nov 18,2010 at 3:55 pm

    Thanks for putting those highlights up. I read about the game but had not seen the action moments.

    That’s entertainment. No doubt it is better to maintain a wall of separation between the performer and the performance, but I cannot always do it. There is simply no way I could ever “root” for Vick, nor will I ever be able to comprehend his ignoble acts. I can appreciate, however, that he is a superlative football player whose qb skills really have no equal. Who (maybe Steve Young?) has ever had the speed and elusiveness of a running back/receiver AND an incredibly strong arm? It also seems like he is making better decisions with the ball right now, maybe the result of the aging process or perhaps a dash of humility because of his punishments. He has paid a heavy price indeed for his acts, but it’s still not enough for me to forget what he did. I read that he is contrite, but I reserve judgment on that until I see how he acts after taking the Eagles to the super bowl.

  • Comment by donmccrmck — Nov 18,2010 at 5:36 pm

    He also seems to be different as a player. I don’t know if he’s spending more time watching films or listening to the coaches more or what, but his passing game seems more precise than it did before he went to jail. He seems to be able to wait for receivers to get into position, which he didn’t do in Atlanta.

    Salman Rushdie was on the radio today and he said he’d signed a letter asking the Los Angeles County District Attorney to drop the charges against Roman Polanski because the woman he’d assaulted years ago had forgiven him so the rest of us should follow her lead. I don’t agree with him, but there’s some logic to what he said. Michael Vick’s his victims lack the capacity to forgive or even to understand what happened to them. I’ve never been around a dog that wasn’t happy to see its owner and I bet Vick’s dogs reacted that way despite the awful way he was treating the them. To me that canine loyalty makes what he did to his dogs all the more horrific and difficult to forgive. I don’t know that anyone could possibly feel, much less express, adequate remorse for that kind of cruelty.

    So I guess I’m hoping that he really did come to understand that he’d behaved reprehensibly, that his time in prison and public opprobrium and bankruptcy, as well as counseling and support from good guys like Tony Dungy, made Vick into a better person, one who is incapable of animal cruelty, one who realizes he’s lucky to make millions playing a game, and appreciative of his teammates and fans. But I have a hard time believing it. A real hard time.

  • Comment by david starr — Nov 19,2010 at 7:09 am

    As one who believes in (and hopes for) redemption, I find myself struggling with the Vick story. He is doing great things on the field. He has done some horrific things in his personal life.
    I struggle because I want to like the guy for his comeback story and his seeming return to decent behavior. But I am having a hard time getting past the interviews on 60 Minutes (I think it was on that show) some time back where he was asked when he first realized what he had been doing regarding dogs was wrong…I am paraphrasing and likely misquoting him, but the gist was that he first became “disgusted” by his own behavior when he sat down in the that prison cell for the first time.
    He either knows right from wrong or he doesn’t. Maybe I should just let it go. But it’s a hard thing to reconcile that a guy doesn’t feel disgust about killing and abusing dogs until the door slams on him.
    As for redemption, I guess I should just pray for the guy. But it’s hard to do that. I will watch the football he plays and try to keep a watchful eye on his off-field behavior as well as he executes his second chance. Some of those animals he kept and abused lived to get another chance and some did not.
    I don’t know what a model citizen looks like, but he better be one from this point on. Football is just a game and he hasn’t always played fair.

  • Comment by Toby — Nov 19,2010 at 8:25 am

    “I like this football player. I do not know this man. ” I think this is the trick, being able to appreciate someone’s ability and separate them from their failings. What I struggle with is so many of these athletes are held in such high regards by very young people. Perhaps they aren’t so capable just yet of making the distinction between “the man” and “the player”.

    At the end of the day, I can watch and enjoy the football game but I would cross the street to avoid him and he certainly isn’t welcome at my Thanksgiving dinner.

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