Since everyone and his veterinarian are weighing in on the surprise signing of convicted dog abuser/dog killer Michael Vick by the Philadelphia Eagles, I decided to try to get the opinion of the only God-blessed creation that truly matters.
“Come here, Alex,” I called to my 31/2-year-old golden retriever Saturday morning. “Drop the darn fetch ball, girl, and come over here for a minute.”
OK, so Alex (short for Alexis) isn’t a pit bull, one of those dogs from a misunderstood breed that Vick and his homies at Bad Newz Kennels in Virginia engaged in vicious fights, with the losers, if not dead from the trained attacks, led to unspeakable slaughter by drowning, electrocution or hanging. But, hey, if it wags its tail when you walk in the door at night, sleeps at your feet when you watch TV and leaves drool all over your hand when it brings its fetch ball, a dog is a dog is a dog.
Pit bull, golden retriever or Heinz 57.
“You know, girl, this Michael Vick guy, the guy who hurt and killed all those dogs, is out of prison now and back in the NFL,” I said to Alex, as she nudged my knee to let me know she had dropped her ball in my lap and was ready for another sprint across the backyard. “Some people say he shouldn’t be allowed to play again because what he did was so heinous that he never can be forgiven, then there are others who say he paid his debt to society (18 months in prison), has said he’s sorry numerous times and should be allowed to move on with his life.”
Knee nudge, knee nudge. This girl, she’s nothing if not persistent.
“What do you think? Should he be allowed to play again?” I asked, looking into her almond-colored eyes.
Her response was what you would expect: Alex moved her face into my lap, gently retrieved the fetch ball, moved back two steps and dropped it at my feet, as if making a midair-to-ground exclamation point that it’s all about the moment.
“Just throw the darn ball,” her actions said.
Well, it might be awhile before Vick, reinstated three weeks ago by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, can throw the darn ball for the Eagles. But in time he will.
Two years ago this month, I wrote a column vilifying Vick for his horrid crimes, saying there wasn’t a prison sentence harsh enough for him.
Admittedly, it was the unbridled anger of an unapologetic dog-lover. Unless you have a dog, you probably can’t relate.
While my impassioned love for dogs hasn’t changed, my stance on Vick has. And it has nothing to do with whether he fully paid his criminal debt, or whether he should be granted the privilege — not the right — to play professional football again, or how his crime compared to that of fellow NFLer Donte Stallworth, whose DUI accident took a human life and he was suspended for a season, or that there are much more significant world issues to concern ourselves with.
Count me among those being for the Eagles signing Vick, even playing him in games later this season. The reason? For all of the apologies he has issued since being released from prison — and they’ve sounded genuine to my ears — we won’t know how sorry and rehabilitated he is unless we give him the chance to prove it.
Sure, he could fade into our memory by taking a burger-flipping job somewhere. Or he could be the occasional feature story in the newspaper or on ESPN by taking a job of penance cleaning poop out of rescue-shelter cages.
But where Vick can do the most good — not just for his rehabilitation, if he is sincere about it, but for the ongoing campaign against dogfighting — is by being in the public eye, by having a national forum to decry animal abuse at every opportunity.
Only Michael Vick knows whether he despises his ugly past. Only Michael Vick knows whether he is going to do everything in his power to lead a productive life and, as he said Friday after signing with the Eagles, to “continue with my disciplined efforts in bringing awareness to animal cruelty and dogfighting in the inner cities and our communities.”
If he is true to his word, if he is what I hope he has become, then good can come from all of the bad.
Other dogs will live to play fetch.
Joe Hawk is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 702-387-2912.