Let Michael Vick Play! The Ethics of Reinstatement

Former Atlanta Falcon pro-bowl quarterback Michael Vick did not make a mistake. He made terrible choices! He organized and operated a heinous interstate dog-fighting ring. He brought public shame upon his family’s name, and disappointed his teammates and millions of fans. And for his sins he has paid a price. He served a two-year federal prison term and lost over 100 million dollars in income.

There remain those, however, who believe the 29 year-old quarterback should be punished further in the form of NFL suspension. For instance, this week on MSNBC’s the “Ed Show” PETA spokesman Michael McGraw suggested that Michael Vick needed to show “more remorse” before he is allowed to “sign a multimillion dollar contract.” McGraw even went as far to suggest that the quarterback needed a “neurological brain scan” in order to evaluate his current psychological state.

With all due respect to PETA and their noble and valiant efforts, there has to be a point where we must examine what kind of society we understand ourselves to be. The issue here is whether Michael Vick, after having served his deemed debt to society, should be allowed to use his physical ability and intelligence to earn a living as a professional athlete. This is the bottom line and ethical issue at stake.

First, many of us need to reconsider how we think about professional sports. It is an occupation not a privilege. Too many persons, like PETA’s McGraw, focus more on the potential money Michael Vick may earn as an NFL quarterback than the actual job itself. Would there be this sort of outrage if Vick was returning to work as a carpenter? A janitor? A groundskeeper at Lambeau field? I think not.

And while it is tempting to dismiss professional athletes as overpaid ingrates playing a child’s game, how many of us have to endure what amounts to 70 car accidents each Sunday? Not that I am trying to defend the exorbitant salaries of professional sports (how about we sign some preschool teachers to million dollar contracts!). But as long as this is the going rate of the profession, Michael Vick should be allowed the opportunity to earn it.

Second, nothing about this career choice would contribute to Vick’s recidivism or place animals in harms way. His playing football is not the same as allowing a convicted pedophile to work with children. It’s not even like allowing an extorting preacher back in the pulpit or those who facilitated the current financial crisis to orchestrate economic recovery. To the contrary, having such a high profile perpetrator in the public eye will only benefit PETA and the Humane Society in raising awareness for their cause.

Finally, we need to put Michael Vick’s crime in a broader conversation of crime and just punishment. Many have pointed out the ironic nature of professional athletes (and everyday citizens) who have committed domestic violence, driven under the influence and participated in the illegal exchange of drugs yet show up to work everyday. What is more, Vick has served two years for his unspeakable acts against pitbulls. This is 209 more days than Private Lynndie England, the infamous Abu Girhab prison guard and some would argue Donald Rumsfeld scapegoat, served for torturing human beings. And when one factors in the ongoing financial hit Vick will continue to take (the one time highest paid player in the NFL will most likely will be signed at league minimum), what more should we fairly expect?

As a society we should not place a yoke around this young man’s neck that we don’t expect others to bear. To deny an ex-convict the right to earn a living and integrate back into society discredits our entire system of justice in America. Must a professional team sign Vick? No. Do fans have to attend games, cheer for him and buy his apparel? Of course not. But should he be allowed to try to earn a living at the sport that he was once considered among the best in the league? Absolutely! Besides, I am confident there are plenty of 300 lb defensive ends in the NFL who are dog lovers, too!