Animal Rights

Crazy Talk: ESPN's Bill Simmons Defends Eagles Michael Vick

I like ESPN columnist and author Bill Simmons. I read Bill Simmons. I own his books, listen to his podcasts, watch his documentaries -- and enjoy the hell out of his work (even when he insists he's not a Boston homer).

But I'm pissed at him today. Really pissed. I couldn't disagree with him more on the subject of Michael Vick.

Simmons has written a column that defends his heavy rooting interest in Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. The quarterback has played well during the first month of 2010 after spending nearly two years in a federal prison for a brutal dogfighting (more like dog-killing) conviction.

Simmons says Vick has "rejuvenated" his career and is now a changed man -- but I'd like to see him play well for more than two games. Remember, from a purely athletic standpoint, this guy has a history of playing remarkably well in stretches, then God awful for months. In addition, I'd like to see him stay off the police blotter for a few years before I bestow Man of the Year honors. I believe in second chances and redemption, but they must be earned -- not handed out like free coupons.

Yet Simmons seems certain Vick has left his violent, evil self in the past.

This being Opposing Views, I want to read different viewpoints. I enjoy hearing various slants and takes. So I read Simmons today and considered his premise with an open mind. And then I started shaking my head and clenching my teeth. Simmons is wrong. Not only has he written this "Vick's-a-New-Man" piece far too prematurely, he's using poor reasoning to justify his own unwavering support.

So with steam wafting from my ears, I've decided to go through some of what Simmons says (he's in bold italics) and answer back. Here we go:

Simmons says he's on Michael Vick's side for four reasons. He writes:

1. Maybe I've seen too many sports movies. Maybe I'm a forgiving person. Maybe I like rooting for underdogs. Maybe I don't like when someone squanders his or her talent. Maybe I missed watching him play. Maybe it's all of those things. I just know that I usually have trouble rooting against memorable athletes who hit rock bottom, regroup and bounce back ... If Vick didn't pay a reasonable price for his sins, it would be one thing. But he torched his career, blew a lucrative contract, went bankrupt, spent 19 months in prison and became a public pariah. That wasn't a reasonable price?... Yeah, if I spent enough time looking at electrocution photos and rape stand photos, I'd inevitably end up despising him...

My comment to Simmons: If you know that looking at those electrocution and rape stand photos would cause you to despise the man -- why don't you do that instead of remaining ignorant? In the back of your mind -- according to your own words -- you find the man despicable when you consider what he really did. Yet, for some reason, you're willing to push that aside because he's a really good athlete. In other words, it's more convenient to ignore the facts.

But dogfighting isn't much more abhorrent than some of the other ways we abuse animals. Ever watch what happens when a deer gets shot by a hunter but doesn't die right away? Ever watch a group of turkeys get slaughtered for Thanksgiving? Ever watch how a mink coat gets made? Ever research what happens to greyhounds once they stop racing?

A weak argument. It's like telling a cop who pulls you over for going 90 mph in a 40-mph zone: "Hey officer, speeding isn't worse than stealing money from banks, right? So forgive me. Other people do bad stuff too." If you consider those other activities brutal and inhumane, Bill, then criticize those activities instead of excusing this one. If you think greyhounds are treated unfairly, then don't use that to justify Michael Vick shooting a dog in the head.

2. Generations of people grew up with dogfighting in the South (especially in poorer regions), and it's like anything else: Sometimes you don't fully realize something is wrong if you never knew anything else. We cannot ignore the cultural elements here. Not everyone likes dogs or sees them as companions, guardians or family members.

You know what was another activity big in the South? Slavery. And, to use your words, it was like anything else. Sometimes the slave owners didn't fully realize something was wrong if they never knew anything else. We can't ignore the cultural elements here, right?

When Vick renounced dogfighting, many people (my wife included) thought he did so because it was the politically correct move. 

Listen to your wife, Bill. She's right. She's not being cynical. She's being smart. Have you ever considered that Vick is doing this because he needs the money and that no other business endeavor can offer him anywhere near the money he'll earn in the NFL?

3. ...That's what made it so crazy when PETA protested during the early stages of Vick's comeback. What was it protesting?

I'm pretty sure it was protesting against shooting innocent dogs in the head.

...An organization allegedly devoted to the welfare of animals chose to antagonize someone who, whether it liked it or not, could now improve the welfare of animals. Savvy! But hey, that's America in the 21st century for you: Extremists tend to favor being extreme over exercising common sense.

So you're showing more anger with PETA than you are Michael Vick? They are the extremists here? You're right. They should have ignored the entire episode.

... But if you believe in redemption, how can you not admire the way Vick humbly reinvented himself, dumped every negative influence in his life, surrounded himself with the right voices --

Do you mean like at his birthday party this summer where two felons were allegedly in the room? Those kind of positive influences?

He picked an NFL franchise that was devoted to making him a better person, quickly won over his teammates and coaches, gracefully handled every interview (and a few biting questions), stayed out of trouble, waited patiently for a chance to shine, then crushed that chance when he got it? What else is left?...

What else is left? Bill, it's three games into the 2010 seaon. Maybe the jury is still out on this guy?

4. Selfishly, I missed watching the dude play.

That sounds like the most genuine argument of the entire piece. Because I missed his amazing play as well. But here's the thing. We can still watch him play. But this immediate "joy" you're feeling for the guy seems misquided. Forgiveness is one thing, but it comes over time. How about writing a gushing, fawning column about Vick after he acts like a model citizen for 10 years -- after the NFL paychecks are done? After he's done being a celebrity and people stop buying him drinks.

Then write this column.

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