Any dog that Michael Vick owned would be the luckiest dog on the planet. But a dog won't get that honor, at least not just yet. And it's dumb and silly not to give Vick the chance to give a dog the love, care and devotion that he would give the lucky pet. There are two reasons why Vick won't get to own a pet now. They tell much about the idiocy of a court system that deals in rigid absolutes and about many that are still blinded in part by mania over the Vick's past reprehensible actions toward dogs, and in part because of racism.
Vick is barred from buying, selling and -- most grievously to him -- owning a dog. Grievous, because he has publicly pined to own a dog, his children's desire to have a dog, and most importantly that owning a dog would send the message that redemption is more than just a Webster dictionary word. Vick understands the importance of that message and said so in an interview, "I think it would be a big step for me in the rehabilitation process." Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States cosigned that message when he said "I have been around him a lot, and feel confident that he would do a good job as a pet owner."
The sad thing is that Vick and Pacelle can talk all day about the message that Vick would send by being allowed to own a dog but it won't change anything. This is the same Humane society that whipped up public rage against Vick to the point that Vick was tried, convicted and sentenced in the court of public opinion long before he put a toe in a court room. This assured that Vick's name would be spat out in the same breath as the names of the worst of the serial killers, pedophiles, and terrorists.
Vick could have volunteered round the clock at PETA events, camped in front of fur manufacturers with a picket sign, cleaned kennels at pet shelters, and bankrolled and appeared in ads against animal abuse. It would not have changed his fate. The imprint "reprehensible" that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stamped on him and his crime, not to mention the much less charitable epithets that thousands have hurled at him in Internet chat rooms and on sports talk shows would have still stuck tightly in big, bold letters on him. Despite Vick's 19 month sentence served, full cooperation with federal authorities in identifying dog fighting rings, storybook triumphant comeback with the Philadelphia Eagles, his earning the accolades of coaches, the NFL establishment and sportswriters for his gracious, thoughtfulness, and exemplary comportment on and off the field, Vick is still a much hated figure among many.
He was not just a dog torturer. He was a rich and famous African-American celeb that went bad. That instantly stirred a mob vendetta against Vick. The Atlanta NAACP understood that. It publicly pleaded against rushing to judgment about his guilt and begged that Vick not be permanently barred from the NFL. It took much heat for that and drew the inevitable squawk that it was playing the race card. But it understood that in the case of men such as Vick, even when they admit guilt and plead for forgiveness, the words mercy and compassion are alien terms.
He could spend millions and hire legions of pricey publicists, consultants and image makeover specialists and it wouldn't change one whit the public's hostility and negative perceptions of him. The bad boy image of Vick was indelibly plastered on their foreheads by the public.
Public revulsion over Vick's crimes and resentment at his fame, wealth and race only partly explain why he's in a near hopeless spot when it comes to rehabilitating his image. He's the latest and handiest target for a public sick to death of sports icons and mega celebrities getting kid glove treatment for their misdeeds or outright lawbreaking.
Vick will pay and continue to pay two steep prices for his crime. He's done the jail time, coughed up a load of cash in fines and restitution and legal debts, and was ousted for a time from the NFL. That price was fair and warranted. And he's more than paid it. The other price that he'll never stop being asked to pay is that he'll be the permanent poster boy for animal abuse and the bad behaving celebrity, a black celebrity that is.
Vick put it best when he said that he feels that his shameful actions are behind him and he wants to go forward. He has, but many others are bound and determined not to forgive him. This makes it even sadder that there's some dog out there that won't get a chance to let Vick prove that he would be the best pet owner on the planet.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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