ASPCA photo

If You Still Hate Michael Vick, You Might Be Racist

Even if you love dogs

by BETH SHEROUSE

As the Atlanta Falcons football team celebrated its regular season closer at the Georgia Dome on Jan. 1, 2017, former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick paid a visit — and was greeted with a standing ovation by the crowd.

But Vick’s return to football — and his appearance in Georgia — have been far from universally celebrated. More than 30,000 people signed a Change.org petition demanding that Vick be excluded from the Jan. 1 celebration on account of his 2007 conviction for dog fighting.

I remember when Vick’s involvement in illegal dog fighting came to the public’s attention in 2007. Authorities seized nearly 70 animals from Vick’s property — mostly pit bulls and pit mixes. There were stories of dogs being electrocuted, shot and beaten to death.

Vick seems to have known about and participated in some of the animal torture, in addition to financially benefiting from the fights themselves.

I love dogs. I’ve adopted three rescue dogs in the last few years, two of which had been badly neglected and abused. I’ve volunteered with dog rescues and animal shelters, most of which were filled to capacity with predominantly pit bulls and pit mixes, some who bore the telltale scars of fighting.

In the rescue community there are vast numbers of people who are willing to bend over backward to save and rehabilitate dogs, including dogs who — because of the abuse they’ve suffered — are aggressive toward other dogs and people.

Keith Allison/Flickr photo

Plenty of people like me empathize with traumatized animals. But somehow that empathy often doesn’t extend to other human beings, particularly black people — many of whom have been traumatized by poverty and white supremacy.

We can’t consider the story of Vick’s rise and fall with understanding the context of the systemic racism that informed his life at every step, including his interaction with the criminal justice system and an American public intent on punishing people of color far more harshly than they do white people.

There is no shortage of evidence showing the profoundly racist double standards our society applies to black boys and men, particularly those who have found financial success or have any sort of public platform.

White boys make mistakes. Black boys are thugs. White boys have their whole futures ahead of them. Black boys are superpredators.

White boys get second, third, hundredth chances for some of the most cruel crimes we can imagine. Black boys can work their whole lives to atone for their sins — and we be consider them beyond redemption.

A player such as Ben Roethlisberger gets to keep his contract and his career — and is now one of the highest paid athletes in the world — after twice being publicly accused of rape by actual human women. When Vick appeared in Atlanta on New Year’s Day 2017, social media treated him like he were some remorseless monster who didn’t deserve to live, much less have a chance at redemption.

I challenge anyone, even the staunchest animal-rights advocate, to look at Vick’s post-2007 life and tell me he’s not a fucking exemplar of redemption and rehabilitation.

Since pleading guilty to the dog-fighting charges 10 years ago, Vick has served nearly two years in federal prison, paid for the care of all of the dogs seized from his property, apologized sincerely and completely for his crimes, publicly campaigned for stricter laws against dog fighting and joined— on his own volition — the Humane Society of the United States’ campaign against dog fighting.

“Given the penalties available at the time he was sentenced, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson meted out a strong penalty to Vick,” the Humane Society stated. “He paid a steep price for his crimes, in addition to serving his prison sentence.”

So if you’re white and you still think Vick is the scum of the earth, perhaps your hatred is rooted in something deeper than just loving dogs.

Defiant

We are the loyal opposition

Beth Sherouse, Ph.D.

Written by

Activist, southerner, historian, queer, feminist, writer. Follow me on Twitter @DrGBeth

Defiant

Defiant

We are the loyal opposition

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