Michael Vick served nearly two years in a federal penitentiary for running a “cruel and inhumane” dog-fighting ring and lying about it.
He has repeatedly cooperated with federal authorities in identifying dog fighting rings, testified at length in support of state and federal anti-dog fighting initiatives, and done countless mea culpas to various Humane Societies. Society officials have even spoken kindly of him and his rehab efforts.
It hasn’t made a dime’s worth of difference to legions. They still crucify him. The instant he was named as one of four honorary “legend captains” for the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl, the Vick haters went to work with a vengeance. To be precise, hundreds of thousands of these self-appointed avengers have signed onto a Change.Org petition demanding that the NFL dump Vick as a Pro Bowl captain. There will be lots more to come.
In fact, Vick could have volunteered round the clock at PETA events, camped in front of fur manufacturers with a picket sign, cleaned kennels at pet shelters and bankrolled and appeared in ads against animal abuse. It would not have changed his fate then and now.
The imprint “reprehensible” that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stamped on him and his crime, not to mention the much less charitable epithets that thousands have hurled at him in internet chat rooms and on sports talk shows, would have still stuck tightly in big, bold letters on him.
He was not just a dog torturer. He was a rich and famous African American celebrity who went bad. That instantly stirred a mob vendetta against him.
The Atlanta NAACP at the time sensed that there was more to the vehemence of the attacks on Vick than just outrage over animal cruelty. It publicly pleaded against rushing to judgment about his guilt and begged that Vick not be permanently barred from the NFL.
It took much heat for that and drew the inevitable squawk that it was playing the race card. But it understood that in the case of men such as Vick, even when they admit guilt and plead for forgiveness, the words mercy and compassion are alien terms.
He could spend millions and hire legions of pricey publicists, consultants and image makeover specialists and it wouldn’t change one whit the public’s hostility and negative perceptions of him. The bad boy image of Vick was indelibly plastered on their foreheads by the public.
Public revulsion over Vick’s crimes and resentment at his fame, wealth and race only partly explain why he’s lodged in a near hopeless spot when it comes to rehabilitating his image. He’s a convenient target for a public sick to death of sports icons and mega celebrities getting kid glove treatment for their misdeeds or outright law breaking. Though he didn’t get the velvet glove treatment, it doesn’t matter.
Vick will pay and continue to pay two steep prices for his crime. He’s done the jail time, coughed up a load of cash in fines and restitution and legal debts, and was ousted for a time from the NFL. That price was fair and warranted. And he’s more than paid it.
The other price that he’ll never stop being asked to pay is that he’ll be the permanent poster boy for animal abuse and the bad behaving celebrity, a black celebrity that is.
Vick put it best when he said that he felt that his shameful actions were behind him and he wanted to go forward. He has done just that in the years since his release. But many others are bound and determined not to forgive him.
The hundreds of thousands that scream at the NFL to give the boot to Vick are the sad proof of that. The message to the NFL, don’t bow to them.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Why Black Lives Do Matter” (Middle Passage Press). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.