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The Dilemma of Michael Vick

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | August 22, 2009

"There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us."
Anonymous

What do we do with Michael Vick? Now that he will play for our Philadelphia Eagles, we are compelled to ponder that question. I think this question would be easier to answer if he played for the New York Giants or some team out west. 

I could then blend the question with home team rivalry or something else and ask why "the" invited him to join their team. I think it would be easier to sort out my feelings or even ignore them if he were not one of us. But his is. And there lies the dilemma. 

We all know what Michael Vick did. Yes, he excelled in high school, college, and even in 2002 during his first year playing professional football he became a bona fide star and MVP candidate at the age of 22. Yes, he was named to three Pro-Bowls. 

But we all know what Michael Vick did off the field. His repulsive behavior with dogs caused him 19 months in prison. He did things we hardly want to talk about in public. And now he is playing for our Philadelphia Eagles. 

Ever since I first heard of his behavior and his conviction I have taken the position that he should never play another game of professional football. I heard and read his apology. I don't want to be cynical but it has felt to me like a man who got caught and all of a sudden became sorry for what he did. I know it is not fair and may even seem harsh to judge his motives but people always say they are sorry when they get caught. 

I know I'm not perfect either and I need a lot of mercy and forgiveness but what Michael Vick did was awful. 

Then I read an essay by Mark Earley that had a profound influence on my perspective. Earley referenced a program a couple of years ago here in Philadelphia that would give employers a $10,000-a-year tax credit for every ex-convict they hired. The goal of the program was to reduce crime by reducing recidivism. 

In the first year of the program, not a single employer applied for the credit. The main reason was that they were afraid of the consequences of hiring an ex-offender. In Earley's words, "We believe that helping ex-prisoners is both the right and smart thing to do." 

Those words have been slowly eroding my absolute stand against Michael Vick returning to football. I have also been thinking again about what Robert Enright says forgiveness is not: 

  • Forgetting: deep hurts can rarely be wiped out of one's awareness.
  • Reconciliation: reconciliation takes two people, but an injured party can forgive an offender without reconciliation.
  • Condoning: forgiveness does not necessarily excuse bad or hurtful behavior.
  • Dismissing: forgiveness involves taking the offense seriously, not passing it off as inconsequential or insignificant.
  • Pardoning: a pardon is a legal transaction that releases an offender from the consequences of an action, such as a penalty. Forgiveness is a personal transaction that releases the one offended from the offense.

I also must integrate those realities with my own faith tradition which clearly identifies forgiveness as a central virtue. Practicing forgiveness is not optional. How often have I prayed the words, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." 

Perhaps it is fitting that Michael Vick's second chance comes with the team from the City of Brotherly Love. 

Will I continue to struggle with this question? Yes. Do I want to do what is right? Yes. Do I lean a bit more toward accepting Michael Vick as an Eagle than rejecting him? I think so. 

Still thinking about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu