The sportswriters have run out of adjectives. They can’t find superlatives big enough to describe yesterday’s incredible, improbable, amazing victory of the Philadelphia Eagles football team over their archrivals, the New York Giants. The Eagles were losing 31-10 with only 8:09 left in the game. They scored 28 points—four touchdowns—to win.
The Eagles were powered, almost single-handedly, by quarterback Michael Vick. This is the same Michael Vick who, in 2007, was convicted running a dog-fighting ring and served 18 months in prison.
I’ve been writing about Michael Vick since the Eagles hired him for the team in August 2009, a move that outraged thousands of fans, myself included. After researching his history, I came to the conclusion that Michael Vick is a psychopath. I wasn’t the only one who thought this—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sent a letter to the National Football League saying the same thing.
Here’s my previous article: Can Michael Vick change his behavior?
Stellar football season
Last year, Michael Vick barely played. This year, he was supposed to be a backup quarterback, but the Eagles’ starter suffered a concussion in the first game of the season. Michael Vick replaced him—and played brilliantly.
Now, Michael Vick is football’s story of the year. Vick has the third-highest passer rating in the NFL. This season he’s rushed for 613 yards—far more than any other quarterback. Opposing teams change their defensive strategies just to cope with the fast, scrambling, multi-talented threat.
From a football perspective, Michael Vick has become a hero. “He masterminded the impossible yesterday with his legs and with his gumption,” gushed sportswriter Rich Hoffman in the Philadelphia Daily News.
But Vick has been in the news recently for another reason as well. He says he wants a dog. “I think it would be a big step for me in the rehabilitation process,” he said.
Vick is on probation from the dog-fighting conviction until May 2012. While on probation, he is prohibited from owning a dog. Keep in mind, this is a man who personally hanged, drowned and electrocuted dogs that didn’t win. But he says he’s a changed man. He also says he’s not a psychopath:
“I really mean what I say. I don’t have a problem. I’m not a psychopath. I’m not crazy. I’m a human being,” Vick told The Associated Press on Thursday. “What happened in my past and what I did in the culture I grew up in doesn’t shape and mold me as the person I am now. I said it before that I wish I can own a dog and I’ll continue to say it. I’m not allowed to, but I’m just saying I wish I could because my kids ask me every day. It’s more so for them than for me.”
Read Michael Vick says he would like a pet dog; anger follows on SportsIllustrated.CNN.com
So the controversy rages among fans and dog-lovers: Should Michael Vick be allowed to own a dog?
Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society, addressed this question in a recent blog post. Pacelle has probably had more interaction with Vick on this issue than anyone. Vick is working with the Humane Society to speak against dog-fighting to at-risk schoolchildren, and Pacelle says the quarterback is having an impact, making inroads where no one else could. He writes:
While the most important aspect of this work is the education it provides for these kids, it is also part of Michael Vick’s own rehabilitation and his process of relocating his reservoir of empathy, and exercising it and building it up.
Although Vick shouldn’t have a dog yet, Pacelle says, the time may come when he could.
Read Michael Vick and having a pet on Wayne Pacelle’s Blog.
Is change possible?
At first, I was highly skeptical of Michael Vick. I thought he wouldn’t be able to stay out of trouble. In fact, last summer, when Vick attended his 30th birthday party at a Virginia nightclub and his co-defendant in the dog-fighting case was shot in the leg, I thought the incident was the beginning of the end for Vick. But he was not charged in the shooting, and was accused only of bad judgment.
Yesterday, I was at a family party. While the Eagles vs. Giants game was on the TV in the background, I argued with a relative about Michael Vick.
He said that Michael Vick had grown up in a brutal culture, where dog-fighting, and killing dogs that failed, was normal. But Vick was a changed man.
I said that Vick exhibited a variety of behaviors typical of psychopaths—lack of empathy, financial problems, run-ins with the law, sexual impropriety. He may seem to have changed, but psychopaths are capable putting on very convincing acts.
I also said that we’d probably never know if Michael Vick really changed until long after he left the NFL.
My relative said, “So you’re willing to concede that the jury is still out?”
I conceded the point.
Then he urged me to watch the Michael Vick interview with Bob Costas.
Talking the talk
NBC Sports commentator Bob Costas interviewed Michael Vick on November 21, 2010. Much of the conversation is about football. But at the end of the interview, Costas does ask Vick about his time in prison, life change and redemption.
It’s an intriguing interview. Michael Vick acknowledges that he brought his problems upon himself, rather than tossing blame around, as psychopaths typically do. He admits that his life is a work in progress. He says he doesn’t want to blow it again. He seems to be sincere.
Is it an act? I don’t know. There are two ways to look at this:
Cynical view: Psychopaths can control their behavior when they want to. The guy isn’t capable of a change of heart, but he is capable of looking after his self-interest. A lucrative football contract, nonstop media attention and the adulation of an adoring football public are enough of an incentive for Michael Vick to control his behavior and put on a good show.
Optimistic view: Michael Vick did grow up in a disfunctional culture. Then, as young football star, he was showered with money, attention, and who knows what else, which all lead to his psychopathic behavior. But he did have a seed of empathy within him. His time in prison, the losses he experienced, the counseling he’s receiving, and his work on behalf of dogs has allowed the empathy to grow.
Watch Video: Michael Vick talks with Bob Costas prior to Eagles-Giants SNF game on The700Level.com.
So why have I now written four articles about Michael Vick? Why is all of this important?
Here at Lovefraud, we tend to be ruthless in labeling people in the news as psychopaths. Usually, this is an important way to illustrate just how many of these social predators are out there, what their exploitation looks like, and how much damage they cause.
But maybe there are times to withhold judgment. After all, we don’t need to make a decision about Michael Vick. We’re not living with him or going into business with him. Heck, I don’t know if any of us are even in a position to have a conversation with him. None of us are at risk. So maybe we should just wait to see how this all plays out.
If Michael Vick can stick with the changes he’s made in his life years from now, when the media glare dies down, that would be mean, in some cases, change is possible. We have a lot of gloom and doom on Lovefraud. It would be nice to feel hopeful.