Sunday, July 26, 2009

Everyone Deserves a Second Chance (*dog killers excepted?)

On July 20th, suspended NFL quarterback Michael Vick was released from federal custody stemming from his convicton on federal dogfighting charges. Vick served 23 months at a federal facility in Leavenworth, KS., the last 60 days of which he was confined to his home in Virginia. Vick will now be placed on 3 years probation in addition to a 3 year sentence associated with conviction on state dogfighting charges. Vick's release comes 1 week before NFL training camps are set to get underway. Vick met Friday with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, tasked with convincing Mr. Goodell, who he last met with almost exactly two years ago (and vehemently denied the allegations of dogfighting) that he is truly remorseful for his past actions.

Vick will have to further convince NFL teams that he can return to his Pro Bowl caliber form. He last played in an NFL game on December 31, 2006 just months before Vick was indicted on federal dogfighting conspiracy charges. At age 29, it is not inconceivable that Vick could play several more years in the NFL. Many NFL experts predict that if Vick is rendered a second chance by a franchise it will most likely be as a running back or wide receiver and possibly as flanker in the revised spread offense, commonly referred to as the "Wildcat" formation. Vick passed for 11,505 yards and rushed for 3,859 yards in 7 seasons with the Atlanta Falcolns. Many of the 31 NFL teams are reluctant to take a flyer on Vick due to the threat of a potential backlash by season ticket holders and a public relations blitz from animal's rights groups.

"It is the barbarism that sets the crime apart," said Ed Sayres, president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "This was not a one-time transgression or crime of passion -- this was a multiyear pattern of behavior that demonstrates a startling lack of moral character and judgement." People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals contends that Vick should not be reinstated until he submits to a psychological examination to determine his capacity for remorse.

This comes some 11 years after Leonard Little, a defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, crashed into and killed Susan Guttweiler shortly after leaving a birthday party. When tested, Little's blood alcohol level was measured at .16%, twice the statuatory level of intoxication in the state of Missouri. Little received 90 days in jail, 4 years probation, and 1000 hours of community service. The NFL suspended Little for 8 games, which cost him $125,000 or half of his seasonal salary. Six years later, in 2004, Little was again arrested for drunk driving and speeding. Due to his 1999 incident, prosecutors charged Little as a persistent offender, a felony. He was eventually acquitted of DUI, but was convicted of a misdemeanor speeding charge.

More recently, in March of 2009, NFL wide receiver Dante Stallworth struck and killed 59 year old Mario Reyes in Miami Beach with his 2005 Bentley Sedan. Stallworth was reportedly driving 50 mph in a 40 mph zone. When tested, Stallworth's blood alcohol level was reported at .12%, over Florida's statuatory limit of .08%. It was also reported that Stallworth tested positive for marijuana in his system. Stallworth pleaded guilty to DUI and second degree manslaughter charges, for which he received 30 days in jail, 2 years of house arrest, 8 years probation, and a life-time suspension of his driver's license. On July 10, 2009, Stallworth was released from jail after serving only 24 days of his original sentence. On June 16th 2009 Stallworth reached an undisclosed financial agreement with the Reyes family. On June 18, 2009 NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that Stallworth would be suspended indefinitely due to his DUI manslaughter guilty plea.

Fans and media members contend that Michael Vick should be suspended for at least 4 games to start the regular season. Some go as far as demanding that the NFL suspend Vick for life for his his heinous crimes. Buffalo Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens is not one of them. Owens characterized commissioner Goodell's handling of Vick's status as "unfair" and suggested that that any thought of extending the quarterback's suspension would be similar to "kicking a dead horse" according to stories published by the Associated Press and "A lot of guys around the league need to speak up. I think the [NFL] player's union needs to step in because the guy's already suffered so much, and to add a four game suspension onto a two-year prison sentence, I mean, that's ridiculous." The NFL Player's Union's stance has publicly been that they will support Michael Vick in his personal life until commissioner Goodell renders his final decision.

The question is, what value do we as a society place on human suffering in relation to the suffering of other forms of life? I certainly don't condone Vick's inconsolable acts of violence against animals. They did not ask to be subjected to such dejectable actions for sport, amusement, and profit. However, the legal system has rendered what it has determined to be a fair punishment. Vick has suffered tremendous financial losses, having filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and forfeited over $70 million in guaranteed money and incentives to the Atlanta Falcolns. Vick will likely never sign another lucrative endorsement deal or be able to walk into a visiting football stadium or walk down the street for that matter without being subjected to sneers, jeers, and threats on his life.

Susan Dettweiler's family lost a wife, mother, sister and daughter and yet Leonard Little was afforded the opportunity to play the game that he loves and obtain substantial pay for his efforts. Mario Reyes' family lost a loving husband, father, grandfather, and brother yet it is highly likely that, in the near future, Roger Goodell will allow Donte Stallworth to continue his professional football career. The irresponsible acts perpetrated by Little and Stallworth coupled with the vacuous loss experienced by the dettweiler and Reyes families become no less palatable with the passage of time. The ability for Little and Stallworth to continue their lives is a testament to our faith in justice and capacity for forgiveness as a society. Why does Michael Vick's case seem to differ in the court of public opinion?

It seems that we as a society have become increasingly insensitive to the suffering of our fellow humans. The growing rate of homelessness, unemployment, and percentage of our citizens being imprisoned and executed annually is but one sign of this systematic epidemic. At the same time, the number of and influence exhibited by animal's rights groups such as PETA has become big business.

We are a country with a rich history of granting second chances to the most divisive characters, from politics to pro sports. Our foreign policy derides the leaders of foreign countries to practice a sanctimonious form of democracy that values the rights of individuals for the safety of the collective. This has been true in communist Russia and China,genocidal Darfur, and domestically here in the post Jim Crow south. It seems that, more often than not, when the specter of a media backlash, profit losses or decreased campaign contributions in the next election cycle looms large, blind lady Justice becomes disaffectionately nearsighted.

When did life become something you could buy?

Books of scripture abound with allegories alluding to the seemingly divine nature of second chance once crimes have been atoned for. The remission of sins are not contingent upon the political expediency or financial viability of the circumstances. Michael Vick has given up more of his youth and material wealth than the average person will ever be called to sacrifice in several lifetimes. Forgiveness, in the most sincere intimation of the word, obliges us to give much more from the exchequer of our collective hearts.

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