Pittsburgh’s signing of free agent QB Michael Vick (above to backup Ben Roethlisberger has angered a portion of Steelers fans no doubt mindful that Vick was very much a hands-on participant in the abuse & murder of dogs. Speaking with the Post-Gazette’s Megan Ryan, Jack Levin,co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University, argues that Vick, “has been stigmatized, no doubt about it”.
Mr. Levin co-wrote a study that found people have more empathy for dogs than for human adults, and he said that concern for what people see as vulnerable and helpless animals could be why the quarterback has been denounced by the “informal system,” even though he has endured the consequences of the criminal justice system.
But there are, as always, two sides to the story. Although those against the quarterback have been active on social media and made an impromptu protest of about a half-dozen people at the Steelers’ practice facility Wednesday afternoon, there are many in support of him and how he can help the team. One commenter on Facebook said, “He paid for his mistake, so doesn’t he deserve to make a living like everybody else?”
“Those who are forgiving see Michael Vick as having paid the penalty, and they also may see him as remorseful, a man who understands that he did the wrong thing and won’t do it again,” Mr. Levin said. “And ideally, that’s really the way the criminal justice system should work. People go to prison, they pay for the crime that they committed and then they should be able to live a life pretty much like everyone else.”
Putting aside for a moment whether or not there’s something screwy about Vick’s abuse of dogs being more offensive to some than Rothlisberger’s alleged treatment of women (you’ll note Rothlisberger’s never been charged or convicted), surely Professor Levin is not so naive to think that Vick simply aspires to “live a life just like everyone else”. The Steelers are one late hit on Big Ben away from Vick essentially being the face of the franchise, a face that’s still synonymous with animal cruelty. In the unlikely event Aaron Hernandez were released from prison while still in his athletic prime, would Levin argue the former returning to an NFL roster was simply a matter of not denying him a right to work? If Jerry Sandusky somehow manages to live to be 107 years old and is granted early parole, is a major college football program obliged to help him “live a life like anyone else”?
There’s no shortage of persons with criminal records who struggle to get second chances, who find empathy in scant supply. By contrast, Michael Vick’s last contract with Philly included $40 million in guaranteed cash atop a $16.5 annual salary (he earned a subsequent $5 million in 2014 with the Jets). There’s no evidence he’s suffered any sort of unjust career setback since reinstatement and if he’s not universally popular…what exactly do you expect, Professor Levin?