Michael Vick has done everything humanly possible to atone for his dog torturing past. He was tried, convicted and jailed. He accepted full responsibility for his actions. He’s virtually prostrated himself before every animal rights group around to apologize for his actions.
He didn’t stop there. He’s spoken out every chance he’s gotten against people who commit acts that he did. He even fully cooperated with federal authorities in identifying dog fighting rings. He’s donated time, money and his name to animal rights organizations. On and off the gridiron, he’s been a model citizen.
But that hasn’t been enough. Mention the name Vick on or off the playing field, and it still draws a predictable and seemingly orchestrated chorus of taunts, slurs, digs and plain vile hate. Convicted murderers who have served their sentence and have done penance have gotten more love than Vick.
In fact, the public pound on Vick before, during and after his sentencing and release assured that Vick’s name would be spat out in the same breath as the names of the worst of the serial killers, pedophiles and terrorists.
But the verbal trashing of Vick hasn’t satiated the professional Vick hatemongers. They got another chance to take a shot at him, this time maybe even literally, when he had the temerity to embark on a tour to tout his book, Finally Free, and publicly discourse on his epiphany and what lessons that holds. The tour was cancelled because of reported death threats to Vick.
Some wrote this off as overreaction — maybe the handiwork of a few kooks or simply a cheap stunt to get even more publicity. All this is hogwash. Vick doesn’t need any more publicity, good or bad, since his name is practically a household word and plenty of people would stand in line and plop down the price of his book to get his signature, take a photo and exchange a few words with him.
As for letting a few supposed oddballs ruin things for him and the publisher, the massacres in Newtown, Conn. and Aurora, Colo., not to mention a nation armed to the teeth, were more than cause for concern for Vick’s safety.
Vick was not just a dog torturer in the sight of many. He emerged from his shame, disgrace and punishment as still a rich and famous African American celeb who went bad. This in and of itself was more than enough to stir a mob vendetta against him. The warning sign that he would continue to be in the hate crowd’s bullseye came early, when the Atlanta NAACP — after his boot from the NFL — issued a mild statement urging calm on Vick. It did not try to apologize or pretty up anything that he did, but it did publicly plead that he not be permanently barred from the NFL.
For this, the organization was relentlessly lambasted and drew the inevitable squeal that it was playing the race card. But the NAACP branch understood that in the case of men such as Vick, even when they admit guilt and plead for forgiveness, the words mercy and compassion are alien terms.
Vick could’ve spent millions and hired legions of pricey publicists, consultants and image makeover specialists and it wouldn’t have changed one whit of the public’s hostility and negative perceptions of him.
In fact, Vick has donated a small king’s ransom to charities and various causes, including humane societies, and it hasn’t meant a thing to the haters. The bad boy image of Vick is indelibly plastered on their foreheads.
Public revulsion over Vick’s crimes and resentment at his fame, wealth and race only partly explain why he’s in a near hopeless spot when it comes to fully rehabilitating his image. He’s the latest and handiest target for a public sick to death of sports icons and mega-celebrities getting kid glove treatment for their misdeeds or outright lawbreaking, even though he didn’t get that treatment.
Vick will pay and continue to pay two steep prices for who he is and how many still see him. He’s done the jail time, coughed up a load of cash in fines and restitution and legal debts, and was ousted for a time from the NFL. This price was fair and warranted. The other price that he’ll never stop paying is serving as the permanent poster boy for animal abuse and the bad-behaving celebrity, a black celebrity that is.
Vick was eloquent when he shouted to the world that he had put his shameful actions behind him and that he had moved on. He has, but many others haven’t and won’t. His cancelled book tour was just the latest proof of that. The haters will insure that he won’t be finally free.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.