Sunday, November 21, 2010

Michael Vick

The Michael Vick story is a great example of a terrible problem in American society. Just not the one you're thinking of. It's a story of someone who took the punishment for their crime, and yet most of society wants him to fail on the other side. It's the story of how the criminal justice system is failed by society just as much as society is failed by the criminal justice system. It's also an example of how the basic moral of forgiveness escapes both our religious and secular populations.

The Obligatory Non-Defense Paragraph:
I am not defending Michael Vick's past actions, nor am I attempting to trivialize them. Nothing herein should be construed as a defense of such repulsive behavior. I like dogs. I don't understand dog fighting (or the culture around it, which is another under-reported aspect of this). I believe it is possible to defend Michael Vick without condoning these actions, and as such I will try.

So, we all know what Michael Vick did. We should all know that he admitted his guilt and rather than have some prolonged legal battle in which he'd likely have prevailed on some technicality or lawyer wizardry, he admitted his guilt. We should all know that he served time in prison that was not only deemed appropriate by the justice system, but is excessive when compared to others who have committed like crimes.

It isn't so clear why this means that Vick should no longer be a part of this society. The way he's regarded by some is baffling - whether it be various media members questioning the morality of appreciating Vick's football talent or random people on Facebook who must remind us of how horrible Vick is as a person every time he's on TV. I can see why someone would take such a stance against Ben Roethlisberger since he wasn't punished for the highly corroborated allegations of rape, but Vick's life was ruined after his crimes were exposed. He lost essentially everything he had. He lost a year of his life in prison. He's been thoroughly punished by the media, the courts, the NFL, and continues to be punished by society.

That's not enough for everyone, though. Some want to push it further and demonize anyone who would dare to support Vick's attempts to be a productive member of society. If you like how he plays you are a bad person because you've forgotten what he did.

Such a mentality is pervasive everywhere towards ex-cons. Social justice in our society is one that punishes first, but never forgives and rarely forgets. The punishment for a criminal record is to become a second-class citizen. You have to divulge it every time you apply for a job, or they'll likely find out anyway. Good luck getting that job at that point, unless it's something lowly that no one else wanted. Even so, this is occasionally more understandable than not. I understand that you don't want someone whose already committed fraud working in the banking industry. How does having a past involving animal abuse disqualify you from throwing a football? (Save the pigskin puns.)

If Michael Vick cannot contribute to society in the field of sports, for which he has tremendous and unique talent, then we need to throw out the entire justice system. We should switch to a system in which crimes at that level result in a quick death penalty. Why should we let these people out of prison if we've predetermined that they must not be able to positively contribute? If we're not letting them out then we may as well just off them now rather than sheltering them for dozens of years. This is society saying that the justice system is a failure, and it is a failure precisely because society deems it such and refuses to give ex-cons a chance.

That is also society's way of never forgiving. Forgiveness is a basic Christian value. The Koran prescribes swift punishment for certain actions, but forgiveness after. Culturally, it's a principle that has been important for millenia. Here is a case where forgiveness seems not to apply. After all, how can you forgive a man enough to let him throw a football when he's only been to the extent of the law, become a pariah, and lost most of his fortune? He clearly hasn't suffered enough, where "enough" is determined by the harshest sentence any member of the public can imagine for him. No, we can't forgive a man who has admitted he was wrong and paid the price, because such an action in our society has become taboo. Instead, we should forgive those who admit no wrongdoing and are never punished, or at least we should forget and then act enraged when reminded. Vick admitted his guilt and thus he should be dead to all of us, or maybe just dead.

What good is a failure for society? Why should we want someone to slip into destitution and obscurity when they do something wrong, even if they are punished for it? If Michael Vick were left with no football career do you think he is more or less likely to commit further crimes?

Personally, I hope Vick succeeds. I think his can be a success story, someone who made grave mistakes and lost it all but was able to bounce back after atonement. We almost never get to root for the ex-con, this is our chance.

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