The whole firestorm over President Obama praising the Philadelphia Eagles for hiring Michael Vick is kind of stupid. Deliberately so, I think.
Some people feel he shouldn't have said it, being the president and all. Fair enough. Others say his intent was positive, but perhaps he could have picked a different situation. OK. Those are legit arguments, and don't fuel outrage so much as a collective facepalm.
What's stupid is for anyone to argue that, by association, Obama condones dogfighting.
Obama credited the Eagles organization with giving a man a second chance at his career after quietly serving his time for his offenses. NFL felons generally don't serve 18-month sentences in the prime of their careers, when some of them absolutely should have. But Vick did. You can argue he deserved a longer sentence, but he did and continues to fulfill the terms of the conviction meted out to him. He cannot own a dog. He is a felon, with all the legal baggage that comes with it. He declared bankruptcy.
In the South, animal fighting is often taught and defended as a tradition. That doesn't mitigate Vick's crimes, of course, but that's something that deserves equal scrutiny. Vick became the high-profile face of something that's more than likely still going on all over the region.
I've never been a big fan of Michael Vick, even before the blood hit the fan. After all, I'm a Saints fan, and he was the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback. I didn't like his tendency to scramble with the ball as a first resort, and I also didn't like that it usually worked. Though I was more than happy to brag that my university had hired Vick's former quarterback coach at Virginia Tech as its head coach.
And, I hope I don't need to make clear, I detest any form of animal cruelty.
Because of Vick's actions, punishment and the resultant public fallout, I never expected to see him take the football field again. So, like most other fans, I was amazed that the Eagles gave him a second chance in 2009. And I was impressed that, in 2010, he entered the realm of elite quarterbacks. For all of his many issues off the field, Vick is spectacular to watch on the field, and he seems to be getting even better with time. And I think that's deliberate on Vick's part. He knows he's incredibly lucky and that his reputation is screwed for life, so he might as well thrive on the field.
I realize a lot of people are going to read this and tsk-tsk me for suggesting that Vick harbors any good intentions, should be playing pro football or that he should otherwise be in any situation other than having the tables turned on him by all the dogs he mauled. But what do we gain by wishing ill on Vick? Does it bring the dogs back? Would it bring him a true change of heart to have his opportunities severely diminished even as a free man? Does it reflect well on society to bar a man from making a living in an unrelated field after he's fulfilled his sentence and continues to live under intense public and legal scrutiny?
The way I see it, Vick's best course of action is to continue with what's possibly the only thing he's ever done right — play football. No one has to cheer for him. No one who does cheer for him deserves to be accused of condoning his heinous crimes.
As Americans, we pride ourselves on offering second chances to those who promise to set themselves straight. Vick's second chance proves that our principles are difficult, even painful, to follow at times. But that's the price of living in a society that places its trust in the viability of our legal system (an endangered concept in the age of terrorism). It's a good principle that exists precisely to thwart the primal urges that sometimes infect even the most humane and progressive among us.
In praising the Eagles, Obama essentially played the role of referee: the crowd may have booed the call, but integrity demanded it. And the least we can do is learn from it and get the ball rolling again.