Revolution #101, September 16, 2007


Doing the Right Thing About Michael Vick: First You Have to Be Willing to Think

Revolution received the following correspondence, via the on-line comments feature on our website, in response to the correspondence “The High-Tech Lynching of Michael Vick” in issue #100.

As the director of an important animal welfare organization, I would like to comment on the controversy around Michael Vick.

I strongly oppose the brutality of dog fighting and all that goes with it. In many areas of our inner cities and in rural areas as well, dog fighting is seen both as "sport" and as part of proving one's manhood.

It is also a part of the alternative economy, where dogs, especially pit bulls, are fought for monetary gain. Michael Vick's participation in the cruelty of dog fighting was not a good thing.

BUT, as a part of a "humane" organization, I MUST speak out against the vicious and ugly campaign that was unleashed against Michael Vick and all that it represents.

First of all, the tenet of innocent until proven guilty was completely demolished. Michael Vick was publicly hung, censored by the league, and humiliated without even having had the right to due process. A right which, by the way, should be extended to everyone, regardless of whether she/he is suspected of being found guilty of a crime.

Second, animal lovers need to get some perspective. Dog fighting should not be condoned and public education needs to go on to persuade people to look at our relationships as human beings to other animals as guardians and advocates.

But we would be in a far more humane world if there was even this big a hue and cry against the 3/4 of a million Iraqi people slaughtered by the U.S. military. To be "humane" must extend to human beings.

Third, to anyone who got some laughs or satisfaction from all of the cartoons depicting Michael Vick being attacked and mauled by dogs out for revenge, I would argue that this is truly no better, and is actually far worse, than the cruelty that dog fighting inflicts on canines.

Further, given that humane activists want to debunk the mythology around pit bulls, the portrayal of these animals as deadly creatures consciously out for revenge is just ugly and a case of humans putting their own need for "an eye for an eye" into the mind of some fictional dog.

To go further, I think these cartoons were a chilling way of harkening back to dogs being set loose to track down runaway slaves and escaped Black prisoners in the south. The references to "neutering" Michael Vick are not very far from the historic practice of castrating Black men for defiance or breaking the rules of the master.

Let's be honest, these images are a matched set with the white-only shade tree in Jena, Louisiana and threatening nooses being hung when the black students get out of control. Given what's actually happening today in our country, the persecution of Michael Vick is part of a chorus of racist incidents that are being justified.

A word on the "sport." No, dog fighting is not a sport. But in the sport of pro football where bone crushing hits is part of the sport, is it at all surprising that dog fighting is a "hobby" of some of the players (and my guess is that far more players, white and Black, partake than meets the eye)?

As for bringing down Vick. Some people have argued that "finally the NFL is getting serious about punishing players for criminal activity and for abusing their position of role models."

Interesting…because it sure does seem that Black players are focused on more often than not. And with the relatively recent rise in the number of talented Black quarterbacks, is it possible that they are not only held to a different and higher standard because of racist and backward assumptions but also because especially when it comes to the position of quarterback, it is a far more select club and only guys who fit will be kept on board, no matter how skilled and talented they are. And yes, because of Vick’s clear talents and huge popularity, taking him down required annihilating him. Opposing the destruction of Michael Vick does not equal upholding dog fighting.

A good friend of mine pointed out that there is an interesting dose of hypocrisy when it comes to how this whole situation has approached the dogs themselves. On the one hand, dog fighting is lifted to the level of deserving more punishment than what has been faced by government leaders for the crimes of mass murder being committed in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the other hand, the government is pushing more and more dog ban legislation around the country aimed at banning (and even exterminating) whole breeds (like Pit Bulls) that are especially prevalent in the inner cities and in African-American communities.

One argument is that banning certain breeds is part of combatting drug dealers and criminal elements in the inner cities. Breed specific legislation is an extreme (and unscientific) approach to dogs who have been portrayed as making up the bulk of vicious dog attacks in the U.S.

The fact is that the breed responsible for more bites than any other is the Cocker Spaniel. Another myth is that Pitt Bulls are so dangerous because they "lock their jaws." This is anatomically a myth. And while any breed can be bred based on wanting to emphasize certain traits, the basic fact is that Pit Bulls are not genetically bound to be any more vicious than, let's say, the Labrador Retriever, which is currently so popular among suburban middle class people.

The problem of Pit Bulls and any other breed is that if they are trained to attack and fight, they are treated cruelly and are dangers to the communities where they are kept. The question of how to combat all this is a complex one that has been addressed by animal welfare agencies through education, humane law enforcement, and some very creative programs which have been brought to some inner city neighborhoods.

The case of Michael Vick has its own specificity given it certainly was not about dog fighting as a major money-making hobby. Much of the thinking that underlies dog fighting is deeply rooted and linked to a lot of old ideas about the worth of animals and stereotypes about what it means to be a man.

The point here is that when it comes to football, the imagery promoted is really not much different than the imagery that is in play when it comes to dog fighting. A player that is known as "dangerous" and able to throw "damaging hits," who makes a tackle and "doesn't let go" is held in high regard…is it really so surprising that NFL role models are really just small scale promoters of the same values that permeates the league from the top?

So, what should be done about things like Michael Vick's treatment of dogs? First it must be responsibly criticized and stopped. Because it is important that we human beings take responsibility for our all around humanity. Secondly, there must be an emphasis on education. This is part of the role of humane organizations. Should the point be to ruin someone's life or to transform people? We live in a society where the government praises war criminals as heroes and where money is made off of suffering.

To everyone who wants to do the right thing about Michael Vick and about dog fighting…first you have to be willing to think. In our society, where racism is alive and well, even something like opposing dog fighting means you have to be able to deal with the complex interaction of different "wrongs" that are going on in our society.

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