By | August 24, 2009 25 Comments

Can Michael Vick change his behavior?

Nearly two weeks ago, watching the Philadelphia Eagles play the New England Patriots in a pre-season game, I heard TV commentators talking about the newest addition to the Eagles roster: dog-murderer Michael Vick.

The news soon became official. The Philadelphia Eagles signed Michael Vick, the former star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons who just completed a 23-month sentence for running a dog fighting ring. Vick spent 18 months in prison, then served the rest of his sentence in home confinement.

Thousands of Eagles fans were outraged. “As a lifetime Philadelphia sports fan, I’m reeling from the Eagles’ signing of Michael Vick, justifiably the most hated man in sports,” wrote Dan Brown on the Huffington Post.

“I mean, the guy electrocuted, hung and drowned dogs. He only confessed to doing it after all of his buddies blew the whistle on him. He operated his Bad Newz Kennels dog fighting ring for six years.”

So who is this guy? And does he deserve a second chance?

Football star

Michael Vick is a certified football star. As a freshman quarterback for Virginia Tech in 1999, he led his team to an 11-0 season and an opportunity to play for the national title in the Sugar Bowl. After only two seasons of college football, he became a pro player, and was the first overall draft pick of the 2001 NFL draft, signing with the Atlanta Falcons.

According to Wikipedia, “Vick owns several NFL records, including the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season (1,039 in 2006), highest average per carry in a single season (8.45 in 2006), 100-yard career rushing games by a quarterback (eight), best two-game rushing total (225 in 2004) and rushing yards in a single game (173 in 2002).”

In December 2004, Vick became the highest paid player in NFL history when he signed a 10-year, $130 million contract extension with the Atlanta Falcons. The deal included $37 million in signing bonuses.

Almost three years later, the Falcons demanded that $20 million of the signing bonus be returned, contending that when he signed the deal, Vick knew he was engaged in illegal activity—dog fighting and gambling—which violated his contract.

Dog fighting

In 2007, officials found an illegal dog fighting operation on a property owned by Michael Vick in rural Virginia. Apparently, he’d been running an interstate dog fighting ring for six years. Vick was accused of financing the operation, handling thousands of dollars in gambling on the dogs and directly participating in the dog fights.

He was also accused of personally executing dogs that did not perform. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that Vick and his associates hanged, electrocuted and drowned dogs by holding their head in five-gallon buckets of water. In fact, Vick had to drown one dog when it wouldn’t die by hanging.

According to the report, posted on, Vick and an asssociate slammed a red pit bull into the ground several times, breaking the dog’s back or neck, until it died.

When Vick was arrested, he denied that he actually killed any dogs. But after failing a polygraph test, he admitted that he did.

How could any human being slam a dog into the ground until it died? He would have to have no empathy, like a psychopath.

More trouble

Is Michael Vick a psychopath? Not wanting to voice an opinion on the basis of one behavior, I went looking for other signs of trouble, and found them in a nice, organized list in the Wikipedia article about Michael Vick.

  • In 2004, two men were arrested in Virginia for distributing marijuana. They were driving a truck registered to Michael Vick.
  • In 2005, a woman filed a civil suit against Vick, alleging that he gave her genital herpes.
  • In 2006, after a Falcons loss to the New Orleans Saints, Vick reacted to fan booing with an obscene gesture.
  • In 2007, while free on bail for the dog fighting allegations, Vick failed a drug test.
  • Although he was earning $25.4 million per year through his football salary and endorsements, Vick’s finances were in a shambles, and in 2008 he declared bankruptcy.

But then there’s another question—is Michael Vick really a psychopath? Or is he a guy who grew up in the ”˜hood, then got too rich, too fast?

PETA’s concerns

I wasn’t the first to wonder about this. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—PETA—sent a letter to Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the National Football League, expressing exactly the same concern.

The last USDA report also shows that Michael wanted losing dogs killed rather than given away and that he put family pets into the pit with the fighting dogs. Rather than showing remorse for any of the suffering or death that he caused, Michael laughed when he saw dogs torn apart. He also killed dogs by slamming them to the ground, which broke their backs and necks and caused them to suffer a particularly painful, slow death.

As we told his counsel, this behavior seems to fit the established profile of antisocial personality disorder, as set out by criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and it could change our willingness to support Michael further. In common parlance, people with this disorder are referred to as “psychopaths.”

Psychopaths lack the ability to put themselves in their victims’ place (i.e., to feel empathy), fail to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior, are frequently manipulative and charming, lie easily, take pleasure in the suffering of others, and have difficulty controlling their impulses. Cruelty to animals is a well-established predictor of psychopathic behavior.

As you know, Michael has broken the law multiple times, and his acts show aggression and a failure to recognize suffering in others. In addition, not only did he tell blatant lies to the NFL, he also lied on his polygraph, only confessing when confronted with the polygraph’s findings, which showed that he was lying. The USDA report shows his blatant lack of remorse before his involvement was exposed. That Michael claimed to be remorseful after being arrested does not change this fact.

The question arises about whether Michael can change. Unfortunately, the prognosis for antisocial personality disorder is abysmal. With behavior as aberrant as Michael’s, we worry that, despite our wish that it were otherwise, there is scant reason for optimism.

Should any doubt remain in this regard, a psychiatric evaluation should be arranged. It could include a structured, standardized test (e.g, the Psychopathy Checklist, developed by Robert Hare) and new brain-scanning techniques (e.g, those developed by Kent Kiehl) that demonstrate brain dysfunction. If Michael emerges from these examinations without evidence of psychopathy, that may help him demonstrate a capacity to change what has so far been the life of a man who takes pleasure in hurting and killing living beings who are incapable of defending themselves.

However, the repeated cruelty and aggression demonstrated by Michael strongly suggests that he is not the kind of person who should be offered as a role model. Severe and repeated acts of cruelty to animals are, of course, not what football fans, particularly children, need to think about when they see a football star, or buy a jersey or an autographed picture. Michael’s appalling acts of cruelty to animals will always be a part of his image. That will not go away. We look to the NFL for something very different.

60 Minutes

Michael Vick appeared on 60 Minutes on August 16, 2009. During the interview, he repeatedly said what he did was wrong. He claimed that while in prison, he cried about letting so many people down. He said he was disgusted with himself and deserved to lose his $135 million contract.

He said all these things like an automaton. I saw no real emotion.

In my opinion, the guy is a psychopath. I don’t think he felt any qualms about killing those dogs. But how much of his personality is genetic, and how much could be attributed to growing up in a public housing project in a crime-ridden neighborhood called “Bad Newz”? Are there any tiny seeds of empathy inside him that could be nourished?


As part of his “rehabilitation,” Vick is supposed to become actively involved in teaching urban youth that dog fighting is wrong. PETA may have reservations about working with him, but, according the 60 Minutes interview, the Humane Society is pressing forward. Maybe some of his message will get through—to himself.

Dr. Leedom has suggested that by doing good works, and consciously trying to behave empathetically, psychopaths may be able change some of the wiring in their brains that enables them to be so callous. Even if they don’t develop warm, fuzzy feelings for creatures great and small, they may be able to change their behavior.

Dr. Robert Hare has suggested the same thing. Psychopaths may never change through introspection or visualizing the pain their actions cause others. But if they have enough of an incentive, they may be able to control their behavior.

Michael Vick certainly has an incentive—football stardom and millions of dollars. So this is a fascinating case study—can he toe the line?

The whole world is watching him.

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I would have really serious reservations letting him ever be around any kind of animals. I am an avid dog lover, & what he did is just despicable. The question that would always be in my mind is if he is capable to treat a defeseless animal like this, dear God what might he do to a person?

Ox Drover

Let me ask other questions. “Can O. J. change his behavior?” “WILL O. J. change his behavior?”

Michael Vick is to me, another example of a person caught in doing terrible and cruel things over a long period of time, who apparently feels that his talents as a football start entitle him to special consideration.

Unfortunately, any team that hires him, is in my opinion just as money grubbing and “psychopathic” as he is and just as lacking in empathy and good moral judgment.

Pox on them all! It seems in our society that no matter how PERVERTED AND CRUEL you are, as long as you have talent and the public will PAY to see your talent, you can actually get away with ANYTHING. He is just another example to the kids, as I see it, that no matter how terribly you act, if you can throw a ball or run with one, that you will still be IDOLIZED and RICH.

But it has always been that way as far as I can see. Just as Roman “sports figures” were idolized (as long as they lived) it’s been the same way….look at the sickos in our media CIRCUS that do drugs, drinnk like fish, rape, have illegitimate kids that they don’t take care of, and yet still fill the box office with high dollar tickets.

As long as we pay to hear/see these people perform and idolize their “talent” they will “prosper” financially. Pox on it all. Vote with your dollars and don’t support “stars” who act like psychopaths.


The English Poet and visionary, William Blake, [who was also a painter,} said this in a poem,-written in the 18th century, I think.
“A Robin redbreast, in a cage, puts all heaven in a rage,
A dog, starved at his masters gate,
predicts the ruin of the State!.”
Blake saw visions, angels, and demons.
One day, he told his father he;d seen a tree, full of Angels, on Clapham common, in London.Because of this,
his father had him committed to Bedlam, a cruel home {or rather, prison} for Lunatics. people used to go to bedlam to laugh at and taunt the poor victims.They were chained to the wall, and slept on dirty straw.
Its seems that evil flourishes, and evil people get away with their cruel deeds. But remember, god is not mocked . Sooner or later, Michael Vick will have to pay for his cruel deeds, if not on this earth, he will certainly pay for them in hell.geminigirl


The words “robin redbreast” reminded me of a book I just finished. “The little friend”
amazingly well written, it is about a little girl growing up in Mississippi in the early 70’s. The novel never states this but knowing what I know, I see that she is in the process of becoming a sociopath. The criminals around her are already sociopaths and the book delves into their backgrounds enough to show how and why they became that way. the book is a fiction, written around a murder mystery, but says so much more. It is a work of art. I highly recommend it.

The irony is people commit far worse against unborn children in the name of choice. And no Vick cannot change and it is terrifying to think that anyone should be subjected to psychopaths so they can “learn” empathy.”

Vick’s punishment proves society does not get it. I feel bad for the people who will have to work with him.


I recently bought “The Little Friend” but have not started reading it yet, so glad to hear it highly recommended. Another Donna Tart book that I think shows sociopathic behavior is “The Secret History”. It was a really good read.

On animal abuse, I had looked quite awhile back for articles etc. about adults who abuse animals but couldn’t really find anything other than it is linked to domestic abuse. I found loads of stuff about the psychological indicators for children who abuse animals and it possibly indicating psychopathy etc. (or future killers of human). Does anyone know any links re adults and animal abuse and the type of mental illnesses this could indicate?


Jen, I’ll have to look for “The Secret History”. Hope it’s at the library. Reading is the only thing that blanks out my memories for short periods. I have no job or friends.
I allowed him to isolate me for the past 18 years. We even moved to an island and lived in a cabin in the woods. He got some neighbors to hate me and told me horrible things about the other neighbors so I would hate them.
Anyway, as far as animals, my P used pets to make himself look like an animal lover. He always had stories of how he rescued an injured animal and that’s why he was late for work and got fired or crashed his car or lost an item or stayed out all night or whatever….
He has a picture of my cat as his laptop desktop. He once told me, “When I go into a restaurant, the waitresses don’t think much of me, but when I open the laptop and they see the kitty – EVERYTHING CHANGES!


sstiles54 – I remember months ago you had to find your pooch a new home – has that situation changed? I felt so sad for you. Animal cruelty is everwhere. Pet shops, puppy mills, just down the road is a dog that has been on a short chain his whole life, but that is not against the law. Of course my three Dachshunds are little people with fur ( as Oprah say’s about dog’s), I am glad she did the show on puppy mills. I can not watch animal planet cause I get so mad. Michael Vick will do just fine as long as there are football fanatic’s, and dont think that will change, I could care less about football, I think I was born with out the sports fanatic gene. There is so much cruelty on this planet when it comes to animals at the hands of humans. But I kill mice and rats and bugs and spiders so maybe i am a physcopath…


OMG-you remembered that? I’m happy to tell you that my Jack Russel came back to me! I had re homed her with a nice family, but she wouldn’t eat for them. After about 3 or 4 days, they called me to see if they could bring her back to me. I have never been so happy. I told my kids that I know they don’t like her, but she is my one true friend in this life, & she will live out her days with me. (She can be cranky just like me, & is very protective of me.) I hope you had a wonderful Birthday, & that your 3 doxies are well. Thank you for remembering me.

Ox Drover

Guys, an old lady and her husband were killed when the lady went out to look for her lost dog, 16 dogs were taken into “custody” and were killed, because their owners had not wanted them, but instead of being “cruel” and putting them down humanely, the dogs were turned loose to hunt or starve and to breed and kill lilvestock and now even PEOPLE. The newstory said the woman had gonoe out alone on foot and the husband had gone out in a car later to look for her and that apparently when he saw her dead body, he got out and the pack was defending their “kill”

None of us like to see homeless dogs, cats or other pets—because of the NO KILL law on horses now people are turning their unwanted (and expensive to feed) horses out on the highway to get hit by cars and to free range for themselves.

As much as I love dogs it is not infrequently necessary for me to kill them because they go after my livestock, either singly or in packs. Sometimes those dogs have collars on (usually no tags or names of owners) but even in cases where I take the dog back to the owner and tell them (or make them pay for damages) the dogs are back again. Unless you have seen a goat with her udder and teats ripped off, or her throat mangled it is difficult to realize just how these dogs pack up and attack other animals. NOT the dog’s fault, but when people let dogs who have been bred for centuries to persue livestock out to run free, the dog does what it is bred to do.

My dogs (except my jack russell who stays in the yard) are always supervised when they are out, and trained to stay by my heel. Th epeople who love their dogs don’t let them run indiscrimiately to either get hit by cars or damage or kill other living things.

BTW, ANY animal I put down (even viscious strays) is done so humanely–we have no “animal control” services out in the country.

Stiles I am so glad that you got your doggie back and can keep her with you. I was the re-home for a friend’s jack Russell and though I’d said “NO more” dogs in the house, I’ve had nim for 2 years now and he is funny and a favorite of the family. He was 2 when I got him and he did sulk around for a week or so, but has fully accliamated inito our home now and gives us all a lot of pleasure with his antics. His previous owner had had to rehome him when she ran for cover from her P who was getting out of prison so I took the dog for her.

Psychopaths are cruel to animals and to people4, they are equal opportunity abusers. Both by active abuse and passive neglect. God bless us and the animals they abuse.

Elizabeth Conley

The nerve racking ethical decision here is whether to give a Sociopath the POWER inherent in a massive paycheck.

If he’d never had access to the insane salary of a football superstar, would he have had an opportunity to exercise his astounding cruelty on the grand scale he did? Perhaps, but it’s less likely.

The ridiculous disposable income of a football superstar assures that Vick will indeed have the opportunity to express is lack of empathy and lust for excitement on a grand scale.

It’s going to be ugly. It’s very improbable that he will change. I wouldn’t gamble on it. He’s going to do something awful, probably many things, and the world will be “shocked”. Whatever.

It’s hard to warn people about sociopathy. No one wants to believe human beings can be so awful. You have to get your nose rubbed in it before you can believe.


Amen! Elizabeth, you said it.


For anyone interested, here is the HSUS comment on this:

Unfortunately, turning this into help for the animals perpetuates the myth that psychopaths can be rehabilitated. Hope some leave comments, though HSUS has undoubtedly read what PETA said.

Wayne Pacelle has said publicly that HSUS WANTS animal abusers to change their ways, so how could they not give Vick a chance to prove that he has changed, how could they not give him a chance to do positive things.

But still….I agree…it sounds like naive thinking from where I sit. And is not helping to educate the public.


educate the public about psychopaths I meant. But he screws up, it may then get through everyone’s thick skull. Maybe.


If he is truly a sociopath, then he will most likely run into other difficulties in dealing with team mates and so on. Given a long enough rope, sociopaths usually hang themselves with it. As a long time animal lover, I couldn’t even bear to read all of the things he did to the dogs. I can almost guarantee he will do it again.


BTW, I’m not sure where to post this, but there was a great article in Cosmo magazine this month about sociopaths and how charming they can be. I was surprised and pleased to see the word is getting out.

I had a nightmare about my sociopath the other night that I wanted to come here and share with all of you. I have been 14 months NC from my sociopath and rarely ever think about him any more. So I was surprised at how deeply he’d entered my psyche. In the dream he was in prison. The room had bars on 2 walls that came to a corner. The sociopath stood in the corner in plain view of everyone. he was just conducting his business, making cell phone calls and looking out of his cell, just calmly passing the time. All the prison wardens let their guard down around him because he was so nice. He was even sweet talking some of the female wardens. There were little stacked cubbyholes inside his prison cell where staff would leave their valuables, trusting that the sociopath wouldn’t steal them. And there I was just hanging around the prison. It was my job to warn everybody about what he was. I pulled all the wardens aside and said, “I wouldn’t talk to him. He doesn’t seem harmful, but he’s actually a sociopath.” Or “I wouldn’t put your valuables in there. You can’t trust this guy–he’s a sociopath.” There was some point when I was supposed to be in a room with the sociopath. I was afraid to be alone with him, so I was relieved to see that there were about 4 other staff members as well.

The meaning of this dream to me is that I have a responsibility to warn people and to spread the word. I watch over my reptile site (where I met the sociopath), and if he ever returns, I will warn others about him. I have already warned many people and educated them about sociopaths. No matter whether they are the violent kind or the seductive kind (like mine), they are dangerous people and should not be underestimated. It is also a reminder that even though he is out of my life, the lesson is not. The fear of him and others like him lingers in the darkest places in my mind.


wow stargazer! powerful dream.
There is more symbolism if I may?
He is standing in a cell, in a corner.
So in a way you feel you have him trapped and cornered if he tries to manipulate other people?
but you notice that he has a phone and the cubbyholes, also the bars on two sides leave him open to contact others, so you don’t feel he is completely controlled by the situation.


Oooh, good insights. It did seem like he is almost in a privileged position in the prison because he had charmed everyone so much. I do also feel as though he out of sight by not completely contained, so I will always be watching over my shoulder a little. A small price to pay for being free of him.


Vick is to dog fighting as Madoff is to ponzi scheems, Just the tip of the Iceberg!

Ox Drover

Dear Easy,



Thanks OxD

Greater is He who is in me then he who is in the world!

It Has been a Long and difficult road but worth every pain-staking step! Thank God for Love Fraud!

Ox Drover

Dear Easy,

I DO thank God for LoveFraud and for brining us all to where we are today—HERE!

I have also come to believe that the challenges we face in life are meant to teach us something. Unfortunately, I was a difficult student and had to REPEAT classes over and over before I came here and got the messages loud and clear.

I still have a LOT of learning to do, but where I am TODAY –NOW– is so far superior and so much higher than where I was only two years ago that I am suprised I don’t have a NOSE BLEED from the altitude. LOL

My faith and trust in God to meet the challenges He puts before me is infinitely better than it has ever been in my life. My challenges led me to seek God’s wisdom, protection and trust in Him, and he has given me some of those things in a measure I could not have imagined, as well las PEACE and REST.

I’m glad you are here, Easy, this is a healing and supportive place and not only do we get support here, but we get the opportunity to return that gift to others as well. (((hugs))) and my prayers for each of us on LF.

Oxy beat me to it — just like OJ. People are nuts to pay $100 a ticket to see these guys, who cares how they can throw a ball or play a role. As long as owners know that people will pay anyway, they suffer no consequences and are laughing at their fans.

When the Vick case was first publicized in 2007, I checked the US Court records and was amazed to find his plea agreement was not sealed. No news reports that I saw referred to it. He got off so light for this atrocious crime because he agreed to cooperate with the authorities in regards to any matter indefinitely. It was not limited to the dog fighting conspiracy.

Disappointing that the government let him off with a short sentence in exchange for “cooperation” and it happens every day. Major dealers get a break for turning in a customer’s girlfriend why has no knowledge to trade.

Ox Drover

Dear Used, and the GF gets 50 years because she had no one to give up for a lighter sentence….so much for “justice”—I’m at least glad that OJ went to prison for something at least.

Hopefully, vick will get caught for something else, because i would “bet the farm” he has NOT reformed. I’ve never known a P that did “reform” though a few do slide under the radar of the law. LOL


Vick is Sick. He is able to carry out acts of sadistic torture in society and call it SPORT and even have a catchy little title ‘bad news dog kennels’. What sickens me more than this FACT is the way we people want to believe he is a good person underneath. Some people are truly evil. This man in my opinion is one of those…with the psychopathic charm to imitate ‘being sorry’ when we all know all he had to do was mouth the words.

What did he say about the animals he slaughtered in the name of entertainment. He enjoyed inflicting unimaginable terror and pain on a helpless animal, exploiting and using them to his own ends? if he could do this to a living feeling animal then just wait and see what he does to the human beings in his life…he is lost.

He should give away his wealth to animals in need, I would perhaps listen to him then….

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