Michael Vick and the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame

On July 11, Michael Vick was selected to be inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame, based on his extraordinarily successful sports career at that school.

Understandably, many have come out against giving such an accolade to Vick, a convicted felon involved in horrific animal abuse. I agree and believe that the university is only sullying its reputation by bestowing such an honor on him. As of this writing, more than 60,000 petition signers on Change.org agree.

However, Best Friends may have a different take on Michael Vick than many.

As I’m sure you know, Best Friends took in the 22 most challenging canine victims of Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels dogfighting operation, following the highly publicized bust in April 2007 and the subsequent federal trial. The trial landed him in Leavenworth on a plea bargain for racketeering charges related to “Conspiracy to Travel in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities and to Sponsor a Dog in a Fighting Venture.”

We called them the Vicktory dogs and their story has been documented here and in the award-winning film The Champions.

We are well acquainted with their physical and emotional scars and the fear that haunts some to this day. Other dogs at Bad Newz Kennels never made it out alive. There are a lot of reasons to want to further punish Michael Vick and to work to make sure he never gets beyond the stigma of the label “dog killer.”

I believe, however, that we need to free ourselves of the Michael Vick obsession.
Hatred poisons the hater.

The basic founding principles of Best Friends are follow the golden rule (Treat others as you would want to be treated) and relate to animals, people and the world around us with kindness. They are the ideals we strive to keep, and we measure the effects of our work and ourselves against them. It may sound rather “pie in the sky,” and we miss the mark sometimes, but we do have a mark.

Likewise, the no-kill movement is grounded in the same principles — that the lives of homeless pets have intrinsic value and we should treat the animals with the same respect that we would hope to receive and work to give them every opportunity to live and thrive, as we desire for ourselves. Our movement is not built on vindictiveness or revenge. Some no-kill messengers are perceived as wanting to treat shelter workers as many want to treat Michael Vick. If those motives contaminate our work, then we are simply creating enemies rather than building alliances, and making it harder to reach the day when no-kill practices are universally embraced. Kindness and the golden rule should apply to how we treat one another, not just the animals.

As for Michael Vick, I have many better things to do with my time and attention than to follow him or track his life at this point. If this latest episode had not been brought to my attention, I would likely have missed it. He will never receive the legal punishment that I, and many others, believe he should have received at the time, but his conscience is surely a lonely prison. We don’t need to waste our energy reinforcing his punishment.

Michael Vick in his prime was a supernormal athlete with virtually unlimited potential. He was the golden child of professional football and, at one time, the highest paid NFL player in history. The wealth, fame and public acclaim that he sought, and which he briefly held, turned to dust in his hands.

Michael Vick knows that. He knows what he squandered. He knows what cruelty cost him. He knows what he lost, how he is regarded, how his children will have to bear his cross. He will always know that. He knows that for most of the world, he is not the sport hero on the Olympus of athletics that his talent seemed to pre-ordain. He is just Michael Vick, the felon.

Should he be inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame or any other hall of fame? No. Do I care? No, I don’t. We have much more important things to think about than Michael Vick. Things like rallying the country to end the killing in shelters by 2025 with kindness and compassion.

Together, we will Save Them All, while Michael Vick will live what remains of a life that could have been so much more.