I don't think I've ever seen so much backlash against a Bill Simmons column as there's been for his "I'm rooting for Michael Vick" screed today. I'm not sure it's warranted.
Most of the emails I've received are from people furious that he's writing dogfighting off as "not that bad," or that he would ever forgive someone who participated it. They're missing the point. It's not about dogs. But we'll get to that.
Here's the paragraph that's setting most people off:
[D]ogfighting 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? Hell, I plowed through a veal chop at dinner a few weeks ago. It was delicious. Does that mean I condone the creepy veal industry? Implicitly, yeah, it kinda does. Why didn't it bother me as I was putting salt on my chop and oooohing and ahhhhing about how tender the meat was? I don't know. I wish I knew. More of us are hypocrites about this stuff than we realize.
That's a very poor attempt at moral equivalence where none exists, unless you're toward the extreme end of the animal rights spectrum. Hunting, eating meat, and even killing animals for fur are purpose-driven; dogfighting is for sport and money. But few of us blink an eye at those pastimes. Why? Because they're "just" animals.
This is my dog:
I love him. But he's a dog. He doesn't have the same consciousness we do. He doesn't have a (blood) family. He doesn't have a soul, if you believe in that sort of thing. He's not human. But there are plenty of athletes who have done horrible things to human beings, and they don't receive a fraction of the outrage and condemnation that Vick is getting from some circles.
Donte Stallworth killed a man. So did Dany Heatley. Ray Lewis was indicted for a double murder. Does anybody even remember that Anthony Mason plead guilty in a rape case?
There's a segment of the population that can never forgive Vick, but maybe they can forgive all the other athletes who have caused pain to human beings, because animal abusers should be held to a higher standard. Animals, they say, are helpless and innocent. But the victims of other crimes aren't? I don't buy that.
The forest for the trees is this paragraph from Simmons' piece, which is what the fall and rise of Michael Vick is really about:
Every prison sentence has four goals: remove a lawbreaking person from society; assess an appropriate penalty; incarcerate the individual as a deterrence from ever breaking the law again; and hopefully, rehabilitate him or her to become a contributing and upstanding member of society. With Vick, the first three goals were accomplished. The fourth goal seems to have been accomplished. What more do you want?
Bingo. Dogfighting is a bad, bad thing. But it's a crime, like any other. The feds have laws on the books for it, and Vick was prosecuted and sentenced under those statutes. In the eyes of the law, he's a criminal who served his time. So why is he more than that in the eyes of some of the public and the media?
Don't root for Michael Vick if you don't want to; I certainly won't. Don't root for any athlete who's been convicted of a crime if you don't want to. But don't claim that because his particular crime involved dogs, he belongs on a lower circle of hell.