THE PLANK JULY 25, 2009
I’m fed up with the anguished deliberations about whether former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who served 21 months in jail for promoting dog-fighting and killing, should be allowed to play pro football again. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has spent his adulthood as a pro football front office guy, is going to judge whether Vick is morally fit to put on a helmet and pads and risk life and limb before thousands of screaming fans.
I don’t condone breeding dogs to kill each other. I’m not in favor of cock-fighting either. But these activities are still legal in other countries and have been practiced for centuries, even by such luminaries as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. As crimes, I’d put them in a third tier – with acts that are morally reprehensible but that don’t threaten the basic social order.
The first tier would go homicide or armed robbery – crimes that if not discouraged through severe punishment would threaten the social contract of even the most primitive society. In the second tier, I’d put rape or racial slavery – which have been condoned by societies that regard women or blacks as something less than human – but that have been banned and punished in societies that recognize equality of race and sex. And in the third tier, I’d put cock-fighting or dog-fighting, which don’t threaten the fabric of human society but are seen as morally repugnant – and that is partly because we imagine that the blighted people who commit these kind of acts toward lower animals might do the same to fellow humans.
If Vick had committed murder or rape, I would certainly ban him from the NFL, but then it wouldn’t be necessary because he would be in jail for the duration of his professional life. I think 21 months is a sufficient punishment for promoting dog-fighting. Why not let him back into pro football?
And here I really get riled, because what after all is professional football? Use your imagination a little, and it would be easy to imagine a society – perhaps more civilized than our own – that banned pro football or boxing and that put someone like Goodell or his K Street predecessor Paul Tagliabue, or the various Gucci-clad owners in jail for long stretches for trying to make a profit out of grown men being put on a field to engage in activities that are likely to result in physical harm or even death. If cock fighting is on the third tier, pro football and boxing are certainly on the fourth.
So Goodell and all these other would-be moral guardians should let up on Michael Vick. If Vick wants to play football so that Goodell and the owners he represents can strut about as lords among the various muscle-bound serfs at their beck and call, let him do so. While they can stick to racquet ball or sticking a knife and fork into the flesh of a murdered cow, Vick is the one who is likely to have his life shortened by injury.
-- John B. Judis