Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I don't know what should happen to Michael Vick.

Michael Vick, All-Star quarterback and former dog-fighting impresario, is out of prison and has been allowed back into the NFL, with conditions. Tony Dungy, possibly the most respected man in professional football, is personally vouching for him and says he's committed to helping Vick rehabilitate himself, as a player and a man.

Now the frenzy of speculation begins about where Michael Vick will wind up, how long it will take him to get back to pre-prison performance levels, what fans have a right to expect, etc., etc. I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief in the world of sports journalism, because now they can move on from the questions too hard to answer.

Michael Vick was identified as a potential sports star before he was ten years old. He threw more than 400 yards in a game when he was a freshman in high school. He was treated as a star, but he was also schooled in the Church of Football, which gets a little squirrelly about priorities and values. It's not just a game, at that level; listen to the coaches talk and you'll hear it described as war, as life-or-death, as mortal struggle. The players are soldiers sent into battle.

The sports-as-war metaphor is as old as organized sports itself -- but I wonder what effect it has on boys and young men, especially the exceptional athletes. Kids don't always get metaphor. Kids take things literally, and kids don't understand that today's situation will be different tomorrow. In the proper context, that's what sports should teach: some days you win, some days you lose, either way it doesn't kill you or make you a hero.

I'm thinking that Michael Vick didn't learn that, and that this missing piece of information might have had a lot to do with the dog-fighting. So what if dog-fighting was brutal, messy, life-and-death? Isn't that what coaches tell their players about their own lives, their own contests? In fact, I can almost see the appeal of something as brutal and horrifying as dog-fighting to a kid raised on those battle metaphors -- because dog fights aren't metaphors, they're real.

So wherever Michael Vick winds up resuming his NFL career, I hope that the rehabilitation process continues. I hope someone -- maybe Tony Dungy -- continues the conversation with him, about what's real and what's a game and what changes your life and what doesn't. And I hope this is a conversation that children's football coaches remember to have, too.

Five Random Songs

"The Thoughts of Mary Jane," Nick Drake. A song that makes me want to get into the car and drive down some country roads.

"Slop Around," Buddy Guy. Wow, I haven't heard this in ages. Why didn't Buddy Guy ever get the same attention as, say, Chuck Berry? If you ever get a chance to see him live, don't miss it.

"Like a Wave," Rosanne Cash. A love song in 3/4 time, as all great love affairs are waltzes.

"The Fat Girl," Lyle Lovett. A deep streak of misanthropy and rage -- thinly disguised as humor -- runs through Lyle Lovett's music. It's why I love him so.

"I'm Coming to the Best Part of My Life (Live)," Cass Elliot. Aggh, the irony of this song just kills me. (Not in a choking-on-a-sandwich kind of way. Which, by the way, is a myth; Cass Elliot died of a heart attack. Stop that.)


Claire said...

I have no problem with Michael Vick returning to the NFL; if he becomes a Redskin, I'll punch Dan Snyder in the head.

Also I love that Nick Drake song.

Anonymous said...

Someday you will have to un-randomly listen to something more upbeat like scandinavian happy pop or techno like Movits.


AnswerGirl said...

I saw Movits on the Colbert Report the other night -- they were great!

Ed Lamb said...

I want Michael Vick back in the NFL just so I can hear the first announcer talk about how Vick got tackled and dogpiled.

John Schramm said...

I do not think Vick should have been reinstated. What he did was reprehenisble. He should spend the next five years working for minimum wage helping animal shelters care for and find homes for dogs.

It could be all for naught, though, because I don't see a team signing him.

I could expound on this, but I will keep it short here, and post on my blog.

AnswerGirl said...

Michael Vick's situation opens a much bigger can of worms about jail as rehabilitation vs. jail as punishment, and what it means to pay one's debt to society. I agree that he ought to be doing some kind of animal-related community service, but I'm not entirely convinced that he's lost the right to make a living as best he can.

There's no way that the Atlanta Falcons organization and the NFL were completely unaware of Michael Vick's extracurricular activities. At some level, they ignored the rumors and the evidence, and must therefore bear some responsibility. This is what they call a "teachable moment," and I'm sorry to see that professional football hasn't taken advantage of that.

John Schramm said...

I am willing to bet that the NFL knew, or at least suspected, what Vick was doing. The Commissioner even said he asked Vick about it, but Vick lied to him.

So, yeah.

But I don't think he deserves the privilige of being an NFL quarterback. There are plenty of good QBs in the US. Why not give the opportunity to someone who will honor and respect the opportunity.