Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Michael Vick

As a sports fan, I've had my fill of the ongoing Michael Vick saga. To tell the truth, I'm so bored by it ,after all this time, that I'd rather just ignore the whole damn thing. But, every so often I hear or read something so stupid, that I feel the need to comment, and the latest example of Titanic stupidity I've run across is about Vick.
Huffington Post blogger, and assistant professor of psychology at Cornell University, Peggy Drexler, has, in my opinion, completely missed what should be the two main points to be made about Vick. In her latest piece on Huff Post, she argues that Vick's crimes were so depraved that he shouldn't be allowed to play football again. Work, yes, but not play football. (As if football, as a profession, is so special that only the sainted should be allowed to play.) To tell the truth, every time I hear that argument, I get the distinct impression that the person making that point, is less upset about the crime, and more bothered that it was an animal that was the victim. Come on people. I love dogs too, but let's not forget that the victimizing of a person is more important that the victimizing of a dog. But as I wrote, Drexler is missing two big points, and putting Vick's crimes into perspective, while a valid point to discuss, isn't one of them.
The first point is, most cultures have some elements of barbarism in them. Vick grew up in an environment where dog fighting was considered acceptable behavior. I'm not a cultural egalitarian who believes that there is no right or wrong, just different. The torturing of animals as a form of entertainment is disgusting to me, and I think it should be outlawed. I live in southern California, and we have a large Hispanic population, many of whom are immigrants from Mexico, and many of them see no harm in cock fighting. It's not that Hispanics are evil, blood thirsty, bastards. It's that they were raised in a culture that finds blood sport acceptable. When I hear on the news, or read in the papers, that there has been a bust of a cock fighting ring, I'm happy. However, thinking that cock fighters should be jailed for years, and have their right to make a living stripped from them, or have their future employment limited to certain professions, because they were entertained by chickens fighting to the death is ridiculous and way over the top. And if you think I'm making the argument that people of color are just not up to "white" moral standards, think again. Our proud, American culture, finds the death penalty acceptable. We have no problem with sending 12 year old children to prison for life. And as our California budget mess proves, we aren't all that bothered by having funds stripped away for health insurance for children whose parents are so broke that they can't afford to cover their kids. Proud, white America can live with children dying from preventable causes, as long as our taxes don't go up. Now that's barbarism! Should Vick be given a pass because, in the deep south, where he was raised, dog fighting is an acceptable practice? (Among poor whites, as well, I might add.) Absolutely not! Vick did the crime, and with the addition of the illegal gambling, prison time was just. It's just that dog fighting, like cock fighting, doesn't' rise to the level of extreme, irredeemable depravity.
And the second point that Drexler misses? There are laws, legal contracts, and social contracts. The social contracts I'm writing about are the things that we, as a people, agree to abide by, without the force of law. I was born in 1955, and when I was a child, if a person used a certain word that began with the letter "F" in general conversation, he would soon find himself ostracized. The use of polite and respectful conversation was considered an important part of a civilized existence. We now feel free to say fuck at any time and anywhere. Not a very pleasant way to live. Anyway, one of the things that was once part of the social contract was that when someone had committed a crime, once they did their time, they were free to make a new life for themselves. I don't know whether it's an out growth of the media age, always searching for content, or a genuine sense of never ending fear, but we seem to have entered an age of perpetual punishment. There are certain crimes, and dog fighting seems to be one of them, that, for many, can never be forgotten. Again, I'm not making light of Vick's offence, but he's done his time; he's lost his wealth; his name has been dragged through the mud, and he deserved it! But when does it end? Should he be punished forever because it makes us feel better? Forget about Michael Vick for a moment. Study after study have been done, and they all agree: A convicted felons chance of going straight is directly related to his or her ability to find housing, and employment. Perpetual punishment may make many feel better, to see the criminal suffer in perpetuity, but it's counter productive. It makes neither fiscal sense, or social sense, to set up prisoners to fail after their release. Vick is a big name criminal who should remind us, that we want convicted felons to succeed after they are released from prison. Let Vick play football again.

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