Let me start by saying that I find what Michael Vick and his friends in Virginia did reprehensible. As a dog owner and lover, I was surprised at how little the media seemed to know about dog fighting in general.
We heard it reported over and over again about how smaller breeds of dog are used as bait to train the fighters, or how those who didn’t perform well in the ring were disposed of. What was never talked about in any reports that I heard, in reference to Vick or to dog fighting in general, were the number of dogs that are destroyed before ever having a chance to get that far.
Kennels who breed fighting dogs are constantly buying entire litters of puppies to add to their stock, and of course breeding loads of their own dogs as well. Litters of pups are routinely picked over shortly after birth, and often cut in half. Once a dog has been identified as not being “game”, they are destroyed. A white pit bull like mine probably would have never gotten his first taste of milk on a farm like Bad Newz. Dogs that aren’t “game” can’t be given to good homes, for fear that these weaker dogs could ultimately hurt the kennels reputation. Dogs are constantly being evaluated, and disposed of before the few who will actually get into the ring are determined. Lucky ones are shot; others are drowned, electrocuted or disposed of by other cruel means.
All of that was simply to say that I am not speaking lightly when I say that America may be a tad overzealous in their desire to see Vick punished. This is not to excuse or condone anything that Vick or his counterparts did, as I couldn’t be more opposed to the practice of dog fighting. However, if the goal of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate rather than just to punish, then I fear that we are going to far.
Michael Vick will be 29 when his sentence ends, and if the federal time that he received today is the only punishment that he does get; I’d be satisfied with that. Vick will still be young enough to make an attempt to get back into the league, and scrutiny will follow him for the rest of his life anyway. Keep in mind that PETA is one of the most powerful and passionate lobbies in the world, not to mention a host of other, borderline terrorist, animal rights organizations. This will torment Vick no matter where he goes, for the rest of his life.
It appears that the federal sentence is just the beginning of the road for Vick though. He’ll be tried on charges in the state of Virginia for dog fighting early next year, and it seems likely that they’ll be piling on prison time as well. It will likely be easy for them, given the testimony Vick has already given in his federal case. It’s also worth mentioning that the Feds probably would have never gotten involved with the case if Surry County and the state of Virginia had acted in the first place. It also remains to be seen whether some league imposed suspension will await Vick upon his release from prison.
Again, if Vick serves his 23 months and is allowed to go about his life, I think that’s probably fair. If the state of Virginia or the NFL pile on additional penalties, I think the purpose of the whole criminal justice system is defeated. Vick was / is no boy scout, I am not even entertaining that notion. I am saying though that before his house was raided, for a charge unrelated to dog fighting, Michael Vick was not a criminal. He was someone who took part in illegal activity. The NFL is full of those, so is the NBA and major league baseball, and probably the company that you work for too.
Now if Vick, who has lost his contract, been forced to pay back his signing bonus, lost all of his endorsements, paid for a legal defense team, paid for the care of the dogs seized from his property etc., is kept from doing the only thing that he knows how to do well, what will become of Michael Vick then? Take away all of Vick’s money, house him with criminals for the next 2 years or more, and then just for the sake of punishment make it impossible for him to get back to the NFL, and the odds are that Vick would become a real criminal.
If rehabilitation is the goal, then the punishment fits the crime, and enough is enough. Leonard Little still plays in the NFL, and I think most would agree that Leonard Little’s transgressions were a little worse than Vick’s. Then again, more of us have probably driven drunk than have been to a dogfight. Perhaps that was just how we were raised.
Sometimes society has to step in and teach us the lessons that our parents should have. When your parents punished you, they did it for your own good. They did it to teach you a lesson, not just to make you suffer. Causing suffering is what Vick is on trial for in the first place. Let’s take our mind off of punishment and on to rehabilitation. A better Michael Vick should be the ultimate goal, and the most beneficial end for everyone.