Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding Mike Vick’s induction into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.
It isn’t hard to understand why so many people have come out against his addition to the sports shrine that honors 192 other Hokie athletes. Dog fighting in itself is reprehensible, and that’s not even considering how poorly the dogs’ living conditions were, or the disgusting way in which they were tortured and killed.
Although it is not an excuse, there seems to be aspects of Vick’s childhood that allude to why he may not have realized just how terrible his actions were at the time.
His father, Michael Boddie, told the Washington Post in August, 2007 that some of the first interactions Vick had with dogs was letting them loose with other kids to chase cats around his neighborhood in Newport News.
That alone is something that many people cannot fathom doing, but was seen as normal where he’s from. There are countless examples of athletes or celebrities growing up in poor areas (like Newport News), and having a hard time detaching themselves from their negative aspects or people from their past.
In his group of coconspirators, many of which he grew up with, dog fighting was a normal activity that was seen as a sport, instead of what it really is: a heinous practice that has no place in modern society.
I’d like to stress again that it is not an excuse, but it does help to understand the cognitive dissonance of being a self proclaimed “dog lover” while committing crimes that would suggest just the opposite.
In August of 2007, Vick pleaded guilty to conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and sponsoring a dog in an animal-fighting venture, for which he served 23 months in federal prison, was suspended from the NFL indefinitely and lost millions of dollars in potential earning.
Over the past decade, he expressed much remorse and understanding of just how egregious his actions were, often citing his stint in prison as a time when he was able to reflect and truly come to terms with the seriousness and cruelty of his crimes.
Since being released from prison, Vick has done everything asked of him to become a productive member of society and has strived to atone for his crimes. He has worked closely with the Humane Society on a variety of animal cruelty issues, something Vick and his associates initiated towards the end of his prison sentence.
According to the Humane Society’s website, the group was reluctant to work with him following his release, but after speaking with him, realized the positive impact he could have on animal rights.
Additionally, he has publically endorsed several pieces of state and federal legislation cracking down on animal cruelty, most notably the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act passed in 2014, which makes it a federal crime to attend an organized animal fight.
The Michael Vick Foundation and The Vick Foundation, both founded before his incarceration, have continued to help countless low-income youth in places like Newport News, Atlanta and Philadelphia, among others.
In 2009, Vick proved his rehabilitation to the NFL enough to be reinstated and play seven more seasons in the league. He has been eligible for the school’s hall of fame since 2011, but the voters waited until now for Vick to further prove his worthiness, suggesting that this decision was not made in haste.
The criteria to get in to the HOF has been brought up by many individuals, especially the part that states, “must be of good character and reputation/not have been a source of embarrassment to the university in any way.”
He has done a great deal to restore his character and reputation over the last 10 years, and the latter part is subject to interpretation. He certainly was a source of embarrassment for the university, but is he today?
The moral quandary of, “what message does this send to the children?” usually gets brought up in situations like these. And that is a great question.
Virginia Tech’s message is clear: People screw up, sometimes in a major way. If they are truly remorseful and continually work to rectify their mistakes, redemption is almost always possible.
To me, that is a lesson worth teaching.
Sam Wall is the editor of the News Messenger and Radford New Journal. When he is not covering local news, you can most likely find him on the golf course. Readers are encouraged to send their thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.