August 27, 2007
Was Michael Vick Just
the One Who Got Caught?
The crash you heard last
week was the fall to earth of Michael Vick, who, in one off-season, went
from NFL superstar to object of near-universal scorn.
suspension following an admission of crimes related to dog fighting was
well deserved, albeit tardy. In a perfect world, it would prompt
reflection that all people might be created equal in the eyes of God,
but not in the spotlight of celebrity.
Sadly, that’s unlikely
to happen. Since the first news broke that property owned by Vick was
used for dog fighting, the quarterback has had his share of media
defenders. Let the legal system work it out, they argued, before rushing
In a criminal sense,
this is very appropriate. It isn’t just unfair to declare Vick guilty of
a crime before a verdict or plea, but it’s also a violation of his right
to presumed innocence.
But that is a right in
the court of criminal justice. Beyond that, when it comes to public
perception and, most importantly, who occupies the public spotlight,
there are no rights – only privileges.
predictable that he would want to protect his spot in a profession that
pays him millions of dollars and, perhaps most importantly these days,
puts his face into homes across the nation. Most people aspire to be
rich and famous.
Those privileges, like
everything, come with responsibilities. You become a rich and famous
quarterback only because millions will watch an afternoon’s worth of
football. Those millions of viewers inspire corporations to spend
millions in advertising, and will themselves spend their own hard-earned
money on merchandise. In short, there exists an unspoken contract
between professional sports celebrity and the people upon whom they
depend for a living. That contract is that, in exchange for adulation
and money, the celebrity will provide entertainment.
What that unspoken
contract doesn’t include is anything that suggests that the privileges
of celebrity – and professional athletes are only professional
entertainers – come with no strings attached. It’s reasonable to expect
professional athletes to not engage in barbaric behavior or associate
with those who do.
Why? Lots of football
fans have kids. When they see their parents yelling at the TV on
Sundays, they naturally think this is the thing to do. This is how a
professional athlete whose only real claim to fame is in his legs
becomes a role model. It’s not rocket science.
Only the most blind or
naïve thinks that truth is an inherent product of the criminal justice
system. Most of us understand that often the one who comes out on top is
the one who is best at negotiating, bluffing and strategy. So, legal
guilt isn’t a good way to determine whether someone has broken that
unspoken contract between a professional sports entertainer and the
people upon whose backs his career was built.
Over the four months
that the story developed, it became more and more evident that Vick was
at least a man tainted by seedy associations. The evidence in the public
eye grew, even if it ultimately only meant that property owned by Vick
was itself a house of horrors. There are many things you can say about
America’s obsession with property rights, but the almost religious zeal
by which we pursue them means that the reputation of landowners are
intertwined with the things that happen on their property.
America might love a
story of salvation, but dog fighting belongs to that group of acts –
among premeditated murder, rape and sexual or physical abuse of children
– for which there is no redemption. Vick could spend 20 years hidden
away in a remote monastery seeking absolution, and he’d never escape
being the man who bred dogs to fight for profit.
That some of Vick’s
defenders came from the ranks of professional football wasn’t
surprising. That some of them – most notably, and idiotically, in a
newspaper column written by ex-cornerback Deion Sanders – edged towards
a defense of dog fighting was surprising.
This means that
awareness of the responsibilities of celebrity isn’t high among football
players (which could account for the growing number of arrests), and it
perhaps suggests that Vick was only unfortunate enough to be the guy who
© 2007 North Star Writers
Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
is Column # EB009.
Request permission to publish here.