Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick’s past as a dogfighting ringleader will forever follow him, the same way that so many others in this world find it impossible to escape their pasts. Vick knows this, and he makes no efforts to hide his past during the book tour for his new autobiography, ”Finally Free”. Many have found it impossible to forgive Vick for the fact that he killed many dogs. So, naturally, some have responded by sending him death threats.

While I could easily write a full column condemning people for their overall hatred, hypocrisy and immorality, especially because they only feel powerful enough to act in such a way when they’re behind a computer screen, I don’t think that such a column would prove anything.  I’m not exactly breaking any news by saying that death threats are wrong.

But many aren’t noticing the twisted way that people are viewing Michael Vick’s current situation and the twisted way that they’ve viewed it since 2009 when Vick was released from prison and signed with an NFL team again.

Vick grew up in the exact same situation as many underprivileged, inner-city kids in America.  He once stated, “I would go fishing even if the fish weren’t biting, just to get away from the violence and stress of daily life in the projects.”  Many of his childhood friends got into the dogfighting game with him, and it’s safe to say that the setting in which he grew up contributed to his dogfighting days.  When Vick was released from prison in the summer of 2009 and when he started saying all the right things about how he was just happy for a second chance and didn’t want anyone else to make the same mistakes that he did (after all, what else could he say?), wouldn’t he be the perfect person for animal-rights groups to use as the poster boy against animal cruelty?
So then why did members of PETA line up on the streets of Philadelphia with signs like “Vick’s an Eagle, hide your Beagle”? The amount of spite that Vick and the Eagles organization received was supposedly in the name of caring for animals, but it was really just out of irrational spite.

Did you know that, according to a 2003 study by the Justice Policy Center in Washington, D.C., 53 percent of arrested males return to prison in this country?  In one way of looking at it, our prison system fails for male inmates more often than it succeeds.

In Michael Vick, we have a convicted felon who has completely accepted his punishment, tried to convince children in similar situations not to go down the road that he traveled and, by all accounts, been a productive citizen for the past four years. Prison sentences are supposed to remove a detrimental person from the public, act as a deterrent for others and turn the criminal into a productive member of society.  Vick is the perfect example of our prison system working, even if it is one of the few times that it works this smoothly.  Yet people feel that their spite is more important than what actually matters.

Because Vick has every possible motivation to act as a model citizen while he is still playing, he could and should be used to promote the second goal that prison sentences aim to accomplish: to act as a deterrent for others.  Vick can relate to underprivileged kids who see crimes like dogfighting routinely taking place better than just about anyone.  During the past four years, including — and especially during — his book tour, he has spoken out against dogfighting and crime in general.  But the focus of his book tour has shifted to the death threats that he has received.

Everyone and their brother is aware that Americans love their dogs the way that John Thompson Jr. loves taking shots at Syracuse. I’d be willing to bet that many of the death threats are from self-proclaimed dog lovers. What they need to realize is that with their spite, stupidity and hatred, they’re overshadowing a message that could help prevent the kind of animal cruelty that they hate.

Right up there with feeling powerful when behind a computer screen, another ugly side of human nature is making its presence known in this situation, and it is the human desire to hold a grudge. A grudge can, and usually does, get in the way of the real picture that a person is meant to see — exactly what is happening here.

Our prison system itself is based on the idea of reconstruction and not retribution. Now that he has reconstructed his own life, Vick is trying to help reconstruct a part of society that he once damaged. However, a few narrow-minded grudge holders are not letting Vick help to reconstruct society because of an irrational desire for retribution.

Tom Hoff is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. DOWN TO THE WIRE appears every Friday.

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