CanWest News Service; Vancouver Province
Thursday, August 23, 2007
VANCOUVER - There are, of course, 3,972 ways to come at the Michael Vick story, and if you've been following this sordid tale in the U.S. media, you're aware all 3,972 angles have been covered.
And then some.
There have been great columns on the subject of Vick, the star quarterback of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. And terrible columns. There have been provocative takes - why is Vick going to jail for his role in a dog-fighting ring when crimes such as domestic abuse are not always punishable by incarceration? And takes so bizarre - NBA star Stephon Marbury calling dog-fighting a sport that just happens to take place behind closed doors - they strain credulity.
The best line from the past week? "All the money in the world apparently couldn't buy (Vick) a decent mirror," from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jeff Schultz.
The most poignant? "Let his prison sentence send the message that continued allegiance to street culture successfully keeps young black men frighteningly behind in American society," from ESPN's Jemele Hill.
So the coverage of this story and its attendant commentary has been as fascinating as Vick's crimes have been repellent. But there's one aspect that transcends the various racial and cultural intrigues. It has to do with the portrayal of Vick as the victim in this affair, which is also the defence - the "he's really a good guy" defence - invariably employed whenever athletes run afoul of the law.
Except this time it failed. This time the truth could not be obscured. There aren't a lot of positive aspects to this story. This is about the only one.
With Vick, the wagons started circling the minute details of the dog-fighting ring became public. Vick helped things along by lying through his teeth as the story unfolded.
Then a clearer picture started to emerge. Investigators found 66 dogs on his property in Virginia, 55 of which were pit bulls. It was further revealed Vick was the chief owner and operator of Bad Newz Kennels and a willing participant in the fights and the betting. For all that, the most shocking allegation concerned the execution of dogs that failed to perform during fights.
Add it up and it was a fairly convincing portrait of a sociopath. But that's not the way his Falcons teammates and others saw it.
"Mike was loyal to a fault and that's what hurt him in this situation," said tight end Alge Crumpler.
New Falcons coach Bobby Petrino noted Vick had attended all quarterback meetings and workouts, as if punctuality on the job mitigated against his other crimes.
"I'm disappointed in the whole situation," Petrino did allow.
Disappointed? That's what my mother used to say when I got home late on a school night.
Look, I understand there's no right answer with Vick and anything said about this case is just going to feed the machine. But please. This isn't a matter of poor judgment or misguided loyalty. This was a five-year period in which Vick ran a dog-fighting ring and engaged in behaviour that can only be described as despicable.
And it's a good thing it's all come out. If you listened to the people who have some interest in keeping Vick's name clean, you'd think he's a decent guy who's being persecuted for an isolated mistake. Over the years, we've also heard that same thing about more miscreants than can be listed in this space.
By now, in fact, the formula is familiar. Hire a lawyer or public-relations firm. Throw up a smoke screen or a plausible denial. Line up a few testimonials. Et voila. You can dispose of your problems as easily as you can dispose of most anything in the 21st century.
In the end, that says more about our world than the characters in question. But this time, Vick couldn't finesse his way out of trouble. This time, the truth, as ugly as it was, stuck to him like a burr to a woolen blanket.
It can still happen. There's something reassuring in that.
Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.
"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm".
Henry David Thoreau
Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.
"Luck is the residue of design." - Branch Rickey