It’s been a decade this month since NFL star Michael Vick was indicted in the notorious Bad Newz Kennels dog-fighting investigation.
But that gruesome and appalling operation still and forever will be the first thing I think of when I hear his name.
The chilling cruelty can’t be unseen, or somehow expunged.
As a dog lover, I honestly can’t even bear to type the specifics.
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While I reread the old stories, I glanced at one of my dogs and felt nauseated and furious.
Even if dogs aren’t your thing, the sheer inhumanity of it all was frightening and is fused to Vick as his scarlet letter.
It will stigmatize him the rest of his life and be prominent in his obituary.
So no wonder some outrage has bubbled up locally in the wake of the news Tuesday that Vick has joined the Chiefs as a coaching intern, another fine mess they find themselves in over a weird few months that included the abrupt firing last month of general manager John Dorsey.
By late afternoon Wednesday, a change.org online petition declaring that Vick does not deserve a job “in the NFL and especially not in KC” had 745 supporters, a movement following suit with other more entrenched ones in just recent months.
As of Tuesday afternoon, according to The Roanoke Times, two other change.org petitions had amassed 90,000 signatures opposing Virginia Tech’s announced intention to induct him in the school’s sports hall of fame.
In Atlanta, where Vick spent most of his NFL career, last month a similar number endorsed a Care2 petition to try to convince the team not to let him retire a Falcon.
So this is not a great look for the Chiefs in many ways.
But this is also not a zero-sum game, and it’s a story that stokes emotions and opinions from all angles.
A Star online poll, for instance, found that as of late Wednesday afternoon about 89 percent of more than 1,600 voters believed in Vick’s right to a second chance in life.
As despicable as Vick’s involvement was, he served 19 months in federal prisons for charges related to operating and financing the dogfighting ring — notably, though, not for the actions themselves.
In St. Joseph, just 30 minutes or so from the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth where he was incarcerated from January 2008 to February 2009, he is reunited with coach Andy Reid, who offered him something between reform and a pardon with the Eagles in 2009.
(When the Chiefs took Tyreek Hill in the 2016 NFL Draft despite his guilty plea to domestic abuse, Reid’s effort with Vick was cited as one of the reasons it could be expected to work out.)
Vick served his time, lost more than $100 million dollars in the fallout and aligned with the Humane Society of the United States to speak against dogfighting and publicly supported the Animal Fighting Prohibition Act signed into law by President Obama in 2014.
In 2015, when he was playing for the Steelers, Vick met with Pennsylvania lawmakers to express support for PA House Bill 1516 to give law enforcement officers the authority to rescue dogs and cats from cars due to unsafe temperatures.
“I know that I’m an unlikely advocate,” Vick through a representative told ESPN at the time. “I was part of the problem. Now, my perspective can help reach people that activists can’t reach. I can help others become agents of change.”
There are those who doubt the sincerity of Vick’s remorse, and there are those like me that never will be able to separate him from what he did.
But is the answer really to have no mercy ourselves?
Is the answer to quarantine him in a penal colony for the rest of his life?
Is it to keep him away from something to which he could make meaningful contributions?
It doesn’t require absolution of his past to say he should be allowed to engage in a coaching internship with the Chiefs and be around the man who has helped him before as he tries to continue to move forward with his life.
It doesn’t require forgetting about what he did to say you hope he is earnest in his attempts to rehabilitate himself, not just his image, and that maybe he can do real good if he continues to try to atone.
“I can’t take it back,” he once told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The only thing I can do is influence the masses of kids from going down the same road I went down.”
It doesn’t require forgiving him to try to remember these things didn’t just happen in a vacuum in the life of Vick, who has described seeing his first dogfight as an 8-year-old growing up in a drug-infested neighborhood in Newport News, Va.
And unlike the protested scenes at Virginia Tech and with the Falcons, the Chiefs aren’t seeking to glamourize Vick here.
Ultimately, they merely are trying to help the polarizing Vick, whose notion of being a coach may never get traction because of the wretched baggage he packed himself.
The Chiefs are walking a delicate and blurry line, of course, seeking to render aid to someone who needs it only because of his own indefensible deeds.
But he also has paid for his vile actions, through what our justice system meted out and the loss of his fortunes and a name forever shamed.
It’s a name that makes me cringe.
But it’s also a name that should remind of us our own duty — and at times burden — to strive to be truly human and hope for atonement even in those in whom we find it an overwhelming challenge to extend such a gesture.