Michael Vick did it, overcame it, now get over it
From a dog lover who is tired of people reminding us of his dogfighting days
When Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison for a dogfighting ring, I shrugged. According to the History Channel, Vick and three other men (Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor) were charged with engaging in competitive dogfighting, obtaining and training pit bulls for fighting, and carrying out the enterprise across state lines. (All four men pled not guilty to the charges.) By now we all know what the results are from that case 13 years ago.
As a longtime dog lover, I thought it was absolutely idiotic to have a record 10-year, $130 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons and still be hurting harmless dogs in the process. At no point did I think anyone would make me budge from this opinion. That is, until I was asked to cover a news story on the Carroll Care Center (Chicago’s West Side) in collaboration with The Humane Society.
I hate talking about Michael Vick with fellow dog lovers the same way white Liberals hate talking to their Republican family members about politics at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I walked into a building with 12 pit bulls in various stages of health — some energetic and healthy, others with clear injuries — and knew that I’d be perfectly capable of covering a story based on dog trainers and the animals. My biggest internal conflict was going to be talking to some of the men in the room who’d formerly participated in dogfighting. Now some were either trainers or dog owners and “re-training” themselves. I have covered many assignments over the years, most of which I agree with even if I was contracted not to say I did. This was one that I flat-out was not initially thrilled about writing.
Interestingly, it is by far one of my favorite pieces years later. I can pretty much look at any topic objectively, minus the circus act in the White House since 2016. This was another moment in time when I was having trouble being initially objective. I love journalism, too, but not as much as I love (wo)man’s best friend. This story challenged me in a way that I just didn’t see happening. To my surprise, I sat down in front of some of the most thoughtful, well-intentioned and optimistic men who simply had no clue that what they were doing was wrong. To them, it was no different than an omnivore shrugging off slaughterhouses. (Yes, I’m a vegetarian.)
But not everyone who is a dog lover has had the experience I’ve had. They may not all be able to humanize the people they’ve decided to demonize. They didn’t do the 180-degree turn that I did to finally look at Michael Vick’s full story to understand that he made a dreadful mistake. He paid for his mistake. He then partnered with the Humane Society to stop additional dogfighting and bring awareness to its harm. And I enjoyed watching Vick’s growth during the 2010 BET reality show “The Michael Vick Project.”
But in 2020–thirteen years after his arrest — people are still coming for him. I’ve given up completely on trying to defend it as “dog lovers holding a grudge.” Let’s call it what it is: You’re salivating over the opportunity to find another black person accountable for all of the wrongs of the world while conveniently ignoring anyone without melanin doing the same exact thing — or worse.
The Michael Vick trending topic that triggered this post
I hate talking about Michael Vick with fellow dog lovers the same way white Liberals hate talking to their Republican family members about politics at Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Don’t bother contacting me about minorities who voted for Trump. Seventy-four percent of African-American, Hispanic, Asian and other minority groups tried to make sure he never got into the White House.) I already know that it’s going to be a testy conversation with non-black folks, so I opt out. But one recent trending topic on Michael Vick made me say, “Enough is enough.”
Initially, when I saw Vick’s name trending recently, I thought, “My gawd, I hope he doesn’t have coronavirus.” I kept scrolling down the page to figure out why the quarterback’s name kept coming up and realized it was related to “Madden 2004.”
If you have an issue with a particular topic, have the issue with all of the people involved. Don’t cherry pick who the “criminals” and “thugs” are.
Still though, I knew it was coming. I knew there would be random white people who wanted to remind us of Michael Vick’s arrest and completely ignore the initial purpose of this trending topic about video games. It’s the same tactic used when domestic violence comes up and Chris Brown’s name is used, or questionable court trials come up and O.J. Simpson’s name is your go-to. Any opportunity to mention any of these three — who are guilty as all sin — and it’s used.
But here’s why this bothers me, as a black woman who adores dogs. Some of you are just flat-out racist and don’t want to admit it.
The convenience of hating crimes of a certain kind
If I brought up domestic violence and mentioned Tommy Lee, I’d hear crickets.
If I brought up unfair court trials and getting away with murder, and I mentioned Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, I’d hear stone-cold silence.
If I brought up the heinous act of killing innocent defenseless victims, and I mentioned Robert Edward Chambliss, I’d hear tumbleweed flying through a room.
And even if I brought up a demographic that should be near and dear to some folks’ hearts, I’m willing to bet half of anti-Vick reminders couldn’t tell me who James Alex Fields Jr. was without looking him up. (I’m not even swayed that these finger waggers would know who Heather Heyer is.)
All of the men above did even more horrid crimes than killing dogs, and I’m willing to bet at least half the readers reading this post don’t recognize most if not all their names. Their names don’t “stick” the same. Their names weren’t rammed down our throats like Michael Vick (or Chris Brown or O.J. Simpson). These were widely publicized cases, but their names have been brushed under the rug. I do not wonder why. I already know why.
On an animal cruelty note, it is absolutely understandable to defend dogs raised in horrific circumstances. But there’s a certain pattern that I cannot ignore for who gets the blame and whose names get buried in the news (and I’m saying this as someone who has worked in three newsrooms) to never be used as comparisons or examples again. If you have an issue with a particular topic, have the issue with all of the people involved. Don’t cherry pick who the “criminals” and “thugs” are.
When it comes to animal activism, you tell on yourself every time you pick the same lazy names over and over again. Then the Joe Exotics (Netflix’s “Tiger King”) of the world are classified as “a group of people who own tigers.” He’s harmless, but Vick is an animal abuser. (SilverXBack said it best. You’re a hypocrite.) Meanwhile, in the Netflix docuseries, live alligators were burned alive in an alleged arson attack. Tigers were rumored to be euthanized, fed expired meat or went hungry some days, clearly bred for profit and put in circumstances so uncomfortable that one tiger bit a worker’s ligaments off — and she left the hospital in five days because Joe Exotic’s tiger company (that didn’t pay the workers) was getting “too much attention.” Should Joe Exotic not be raked through the coals, too? Is that only the job of Carole Baskin?
If you’re a critic of a particular cause, point fingers at everybody. But after you’ve finished criticizing someone, try taking a step out of your own comfort zone and talk to some of the same people you’ve vilified. You may find yourself doing exactly what I did — learning to forgive, and spending less time harping on a past that neither of you can change.
Shamontiel is a dog lover to her core: 465 completed walks with 76 dogs, eight dog-housesittings and four dog boardings at the time of this publication. Would you like to receive Shamontiel’s Newsletter? Sign up today!