Down And Distance
It’s been hard, over the past two years, to not have mixed feelings about Michael Vick. That’s not true of everyone—some folks, your Tucker Carlsons think he “should have been executed”—but most reasonable people agree that after a person has done his or her time for whatever they were convicted of, they should be allowed to fully re-enter society. On the one hand, the fact that Vick landed with an NFL team immediately after being released from prison is an example of the system working (if only everyone had the same opportunities!). On the other, personally electrocuting, hanging, and drowning innocent dogs.
All of this is an old argument, but the utterly dominant performance Vick turned in Sunday night against the Cowboys (21 of 28 for 279 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 50 yards rushing) raises a fresh question: How much redemption is too much redemption?
I’m happy Vick was given the chance to play, but I want him to lose. I don’t want him injured or beaten or disgraced or humiliated, but there’s something inherently uncomfortable in seeing him hailed as a hero.
Whatever it is, Vick is getting close
During that blowout victory over the Cowboys, Al Michaels, who is prone to waxing rhapsodic if he’s working a dull game, started musing on Vick, the quarterback and the public figure. “His legacy will be forever intertwined with all that happened off the field,” Michaels opined.
He’s right, sure, but there’s something weird about the fact that Vick’s well-publicized actions as the owner of the Bad Newz Kennels are now eulogized as “all that happened off the field.” It’s good that he’s back in the league, and that he’s obviously found additional motivation after serving his time to focus on being great at the thing he’s best at. And as much as it’s troubling for a person to be defined for the rest of their lives by one mistake, even the double-talk that Michaels engaged in on NBC doesn’t try to dismiss what Vick did. It just doesn’t call it by name.
And that’s where things get weird: Abstracting what Vick was convicted of—the most horrific aspects of which almost have to be left out of the narrative, if you want a nation of dog-lovers to even think about tuning into an Eagles game without queasy stomachs—into “all that happened off the field,” while still harping on it, does a disservice to everybody. For other people who have or will be attempting re-entry after a period of incarceration, and for those who support the idea of second chances, it says that we’ll never really get past what you did. And for people who don’t support those things, it ignores the reality of what Vick did, in favor of a bland label of controversial. Insisting that he’ll carry “all that happened off the field” forever, even as you ignore what that is, means Vick is still a villain, but for a crime without a victim. No matter what your idea of justice in this situation is, it probably doesn’t look like that.
Among the many reasons it’s fun to root against the Eagles…
After a good deal of time spent wrestling with the Vick Dilemma, I’ve come to a conclusion: I’m happy that he was given the chance to play, but I want him to lose. I don’t want him injured or beaten or disgraced or humiliated, but there’s something inherently uncomfortable in seeing him hailed as a hero, or in watching countless Philadelphia fans unabashedly wear his jersey. The fact that he got a second chance is great, and fundamentally American. But is it asking too much to hope that he squanders it?
The fact that the Eagles have somehow managed to vault into a 3-way tie for second place (or last place, if you’re feeling cynical) in the NFC East with a losing record is surprising, but somebody in that awful division was going to win their most recent matchups against the Cowboys and Redskins. But America seemed a lot happier when Philly was on a four-game losing streak. Everyone seemed gleeful to watch the team fall apart, and it’s hard not to think that the schadenfreude was at least partly because it just feels kind of creepy to be cheering too hard for Michael Vick.
There are other factors at play too—the fact that Philadelphia sports fans are famously unpleasant (they booed Santa!); the declaration from Vince Young, upon signing with the team to be its second-string quarterback, that they were the “Dream Team” despite the fact that he was likely to be on the field for maybe two snaps all season; or just the pomposity that led Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to declare the Eagles the “All-Hype Team” a few weeks ago. They’re not a particularly sympathetic team in any case, and then you throw in Michael Vick as the captain, and you can see why most NFL fans were gleeful to watch the team fall apart during its four-game losing streak.
Now, of course, they’re back on track. Peter King ranked them at #8 in his “Monday Morning Quarterback” column for Sports Illustrated, above ten teams with actual winning records. They’re the team everybody thought they would be when the season started etc, etc, etc.
And all of that may even turn out to be true. One need look only at the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers unlikely records this year to see that fortunes can turn unexpectedly in the NFL. But as fine a story as Vick’s return to the league has presented, it probably doesn’t deserve to be capped with a Super Bowl. There’s only so much redemption we can handle before it starts to feel gross.