The President Was Right To Support Vick’s Second Chance

Michael Vick is a man who generates controversy without even trying.  His horrific abuse of animals cost him his job, his fortune, and public good will.  After serving a nineteen month sentence for a dogfighting conviction the NFL took him back, a move that did not sit well with many who felt Vick should have faced a lifetime ban.  Then President Obama weighed in and praised the Philadelphia Eagles for giving Vick a second chance, and once again the opinion gates ushered a torrent of scorn and criticism, leveled both at the NFL and the president.  

But, like it or not, the president was right to praise the league for giving Vick a second chance.  That is of course if this country is one that still believes in rehabilitation as an essential component of a criminal justice system. 

President Obama has a long history of supporting rehabilitation as a means of reducing recidivism, though it is a position that does not get a lot of attention.  And his point in praising the NFL league was to simply acknowledge that all odds are stacked against prisoners upon their release.  Prison overcrowding and a lack of functional prison-to-work programs means that for many one mistake will literally destroy any chance of functional participation in society.

And for a country that incarcerates young black men at three times the rate of any other population, this is a significant problem.

Turning that fact around will not be easy, particularly given the fact that incarceration is big business.  We’ve already seen how private prisons drove policy decisions in Pennsylvania and Arizona.  Currently as a nation we construct more prisons than we do universities and corrections is far better funded than education.  Mandatory minimum laws, despite a lack of consensus and support by law enforcement, all but guarantee our prisons will remain full and that business will be good.

The president’s comments require a bit of nuance, and sadly most Americans resist nuance at any given time.  The comments require a public be willing to hate the crime but not the criminal and they require that we collectively embrace the notion that no human being is a lost cause.

To embrace the second chance is by no means to forget, or even forgive, Vick’s actions.  Like I said, the president’s statements demand nuance.  But those statements reflect a philosophy of the nature of criminal corrections that is beyond simple punishment, and embraces a more hopeful and progressive understanding of the role and responsibility society has to our fallen. 

It’s nice to hear an elected official embrace the idea of rehabilitation and not run from accusations of being “soft” on crime.  Progresssives in particular should support the president here, given the deep historical ties between progressivism and criminal justice reform.  


Let’s hope these comments start a conversation long overdue in this country, particularly as states face crushing budget burdens and a crumbling corrections infrastructure.  Michael Vick is certainly a lucky man, but he doesn’t have to be the only one.

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Are Drug Sentencing Reforms Working?


photo courtesy of Ed Yourdon via Flickr


Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle7 years ago

"Incarceration is big business" and "Americans don't do nuance well", are two truthful statements.

I've written on the Vick controversy before, but I feel strongly about the value of rehabilitation -- or else, why not kill everyone for their first crime? We spout "rehabilitation" but we seem to be a vindictive, bloody society.

Full disclosure: I am a lifelong PETA member, and a member of the Texas Coalition Against the Death Penalty -- so my above comment on "killing", should be viewed as the sarcasm it is.

Vick did his sentence for his crime. He is also a good spokesman against torturing animals with children. He will always carry the label for what he did -- he is paying for it, every day. Let the man live his life. And ye who have done no wrong, be sure and cast the first stone!

Ed G.
Ed G7 years ago

Of course it is up to President Obama to make the fimal decision as to Veck. However I am more than a little cautious with these so called sports hero's. We have seen at least a rape that a nationally known basketball "hero" got away with it, mostly because he could hire the best lawyer around and then dirty the woman who got raped. People still look up to the A** as a hero. When in reality we should refuse to watch or attend any of his games or buy any of his products he sells. He got away with it, simple and straight forward. It will be interesting the next time he pulls something like this (both Veck & Baskeball player) I suspect that neither of them will get a harsh sentence because they are "heros". Heros are people who saves lives or do great thing for their country or their families. Rapists and animal killer should be not allowed to show their face in any context other than pleading guilty.

John Doe
james rico7 years ago

the only way i would let him have any pet and only for his children is if he becomes a vegan and also give a high percentage of his earnings to animal rights causes like rescueing and groups like peta and vegan outreach and groups that exspose and try to stop all kinds of animal cruelty like slaughter houses then based on his performance he can have a dog or pet otherwise no

Joyce N.
Joyce N7 years ago

Abusers of all sorts; murderers, rapist, etc, are getting out on early releases and go on to repeat the same crimes or worse ones. So Michael gets out too, only I don't feel he has earned the right to be accepted back in Pro Football to make millions, nor should he be allowed to be in any sports. Instead, he should be made to work in the community and be monitored in his activities for the rest of his life. And NEVER allowed to own another dog or dogs. Forgiven, yes, if he is truly remorseful for his past deeds, but not forgotten. Obama erred in his phone call and in my opinion, has sent a very negative message to our young and the athletes across the globe.

Lika S.
Lika P7 years ago

He only served 19 months for having dogs fight to the death and then hanging, drowning and electrocuting dogs that survived but lost the fight? Seriously? Were the courts easy on him because he's a football star? And you know, I'm democratic, but I think the president went TOO liberal on this. Now he gets his job back, and makes more in one game than I do in a year as a home care aid, and I've never been arrested.

linda b.
linda burns7 years ago

His name is synonymous with cruelty here in the U.K.
So his reputation has travelled here where hardly any-one follows his sport.

Carole Cinnamon
Carole Cinnamon7 years ago

The abuse and murder of innocent animals is no different than that of people. To say someone is "rehabilitated" after 19 months is questionable. To have the President say so publically minimizes the crime. Lifelong community service at animal shelters would help PROVE Vick's rehabilitation.

Amanda L.
Amanda L7 years ago

ARE YOU FREAKIN' KIDDING ME!!??? You're saying that it's ok that Obama calls to congratulate the Eagles on helping Vick obtain a "second chance" basically because he's black and since we incarcerate more black men than white, they should get special consideration when they do the right thing and don't break the laws!?? REALLY???? Give me a break! If he were a white QB that did those horrible crimes, would Obama have called THEM? What a crock!

And what about those calls to the rescue groups who helped Vick's victims, congratulating THEM on providing a second chance to those poor creatures?? Exactly where was THAT phone call?

The fact remains he broke the damn laws, both moral and criminal. He gets his stupid second chance, what about all the dogs he tortured, maimed, fought and then brutally killed? Where was THEIR second chance?

I'm not buying this crap.

Jana Puz
Jana Puz7 years ago

giving him a second chance in life and nhl is very humane, but he doesn't deserve a second chance to own a dog. he should be made to work as dog rehabilitator for ex fighting dogs every day for at least 5 years, so he becomes aware of the pain and suffering he made these dogs to go through

Michele M.
Michele Martinez7 years ago

I read the book by Jim Gorant detailing the investigation and prosecution of the dog fighting case and not surprisingly, there was quite an effort made by certain politicians to let Michael Vick of the hook because of his background and upbringing. Having read the facts and details, in my mind, any person who can torture animals to their death is a monster. The dogs trusted him so did not and would not fight back. I do not see much difference between what he has done and serial killers who begin with animal torture other than he can claim his motivation was money, it still speaks to an apparent lack of something crucial in his make-up. I do not believe there is any amount of jail time he could do to earn redemption for his soul and it will not surprise me if we witness further carnage at his hands during his lifetime. He is beyond help and his ability to play football is irrelevant to the crimes against nature he has committed. It is a shame that our society is so spell bound by athletes and super stardom that they are willing to overlook such horrific actions. As said in the Gladiator movie, "What we do in life echoes in eternity" and as life always comes full circle, Michael Vick will be made to pay for his sins.