Recently, conservative Fox News commentator (is there any other kind?) and bow-tied pundit Tucker Carlson, subbing for Sean Hannity, castigated President Obama. The reason? Obama had praised Philadelphia Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie for giving their star quarterback Michael Vick a second chance after his imprisonment for dogfighting.
Carlson said, “I’m a Christian. I’ve made mistakes myself. I believe fervently in second chances. But Michael Vick killed dogs. And he did so in a heartless and cruel way. And I think, personally, he should’ve been executed for that.”
Well, my my, bloodthirsty, aren’t we!
Death Penalty for Animal Cruelty — I Like It!
I fervently oppose the death penalty regardless of circumstance, no matter how disgusting or downright wicked. This “ultimate punishment” is deeply flawed; among its fatal shortcomings: it’s racially biased, too often based on questionable evidence (such as the now-disputed validity of eyewitness testimony), and too frequently imposed on those with limited economic resources.
That’s my head talking and I stand by it — but if I were to follow my heart, I would want for those who victimize children, torture animals or commit acts of sheer evil such as the murders of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., to suffer the very torments of hell.
But in the grand sweep of human potential — from iniquity to self-sacrifice — the death penalty stands as a form of savagery. At the other end of the spectrum are forgiveness and redemption. I believe that is the point President Obama was attempting to make when he made his remark: that no one is past saving.
The Devil is in the Details
Despite his pyrotechnics on the football field, Michael Vick is hard to justify, in large part because of the sheer magnitude of his cruelty. Dogfighting is despicable enough, but to drown, hang and electrocute the animals who didn’t perform well…? Well, if I were an Eagles offensive lineman who allowed Vick to get sacked, I’d watch my back. There were many Eagles fans (and animal lovers) who vehemently opposed his coming to the team (although his success might have diminished those numbers). Many, including myself, question Vick’s sincerety when he claimed that he learned about dogfighting as a familially and culturally acceptable practice (although the “sport” — it’s NOT a sport — is one thing and the profound lack of empathy that would allow someone to kill loyal animals in such overtly painful ways is quite another). But the fact is, he paid the price imposed for his crime and he deserves his shot at salvation.
The Obama Factor
When Vick was convicted in August of 2007, Barack Obama was hardly a blip on the national radar screen, unlike Tucker Carlson, whose career as a pundit was well-established by then. Did Carlson speak out against what he must have viewed as the criminal leniency of Vick’s sentence? Okay, the general quarters at Leavenworth Penitentiary might not be Club Fed, but it’s sure not death row, either.
It would appear that Carlson saw Obama’s comment as a window of opportunity — those of the far-right persuasion seem to feel that not taking every possible shot at Obama is a shot wasted. And speaking of shots, I wonder how Carlson feels about Sarah Palin’s obvious relish at shooting wolves from a helicopter? if Carlson is being honest about his revulsion in Vick’s case, and honest about his disapproval of Obama putting “second chances” and “Michael Vick” in the same sentence, then shouldn’t Palin’s callousness provoke even a mumble of disapproval?
Team, Glory and Walking the Talk
If Michael Vick were a mediocre player, or even if he had failed, after prison, to regain his athletic prowess, this controversy might never have arisen. But this year Vick has been (no pun intended) electric. If one is a football fan, watching Vick on the field is a thrill — he passes, he rushes, he dazzles (most of the time). In part due to his leadership, the Eagles have become a dominant team. Despite what one might think of Vick’s character, his talent is awesome — he has taken his “second chance” and turned it into gold.
Except for the fact that on Tuesday night the Eagles were embarrassed by the weak Minnesota Vikings, Vick has been a contender for the NFL’s “Most Valuable Player” award along with the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady. Their reactions to potentially winning this designation are telling, in my view.
When asked who he would vote for, Vick hesitated and then said, “Well, I’d vote for me.” In response to the same question, Brady said he thought the award didn’t mean much in a sport that is, or should be, all about the team. Hmmm.
Perhaps, as he claims, Vick is a changed man. Perhaps all that has changed is his recognition that, in order to reap the riches that await him, he needs to keep the mask in place. I don’t care. Salvation, for Michael Vick, can’t be found on the football field. Salvation will come from walking the talk, for continuing, for the rest of his life, to use his influence and star power to speak out against dogfighting. That’s the change I seek. That’s Michael Vick’s second chance.