Does demonizing Michael Vick do anything productive?

A day doesn’t go by–scratch that. An hour doesn’t go by that I don’t see some post expressing outrage about Michael Vick crossing my Facebook and Twitter pages.

Since his story is one of such flagrant abuse to animals, I would be remiss not to enter into the discussion about it. My take, however, may be a bit different than most.

Let me get this straight at the outset. I am no defender of Michael Vick. His abuse of dogs was systematic torture and murder, and there is no defense for that. The animals he harmed are still suffering, and good-hearted rescuers are still laboring to meet the animals’ needs.

I don’t care much for Vick’s accomplishments on the football field either. The game holds little interest for me. Although as a counselor, I believe that people can redeem themselves, I have seen little to show me that Vick has moved towards redemption, other than getting back into the game of football.

With all that said, I wonder if we have missed opportunities to promote real change by focusing solely on our outrage at the man. By demonizing Vick and repeating the animal rights rally calls, are we really making a difference?

I ask you to consider looking deeper at what leads to the perpetuation of abuse to animals in our culture in the first place.

If you read about Vick’s youth, you will see an unpleasant story. Raised in a neighborhood rife with drug dealing and drive-by shootings as the norm, Vick had many red flags of concern in his upbringing. Neighborhoods such as his tend to have negative role models who use dogs for status and protection. Love and care for an animal would be considered “soft”.

Children who experience trauma as the result of domestic and community violence are at high risk for violent and delinquent behavior. Their tendency to perpetrate violence on animals is much greater than children who do not grow up experiencing trauma. Although Vick has not publicly acknowledged a specific trauma history, he has acknowledged using sports as a way to escape the chaos in his neighborhood.

Again, there is no excuse for his behavior, and despite his upbringing, he needs to be held accountable for his choices. Furthermore, I am making no diagnostic presumptions about the man.

My question is, what are we doing to prevent children faced with similar circumstances from taking a similar path?

What are we doing to intervene with children living in such pain that they would develop behaviors that put animals and other human beings at risk?

There are many children in our communities who are being raised in homes affected by violence and trauma. Some of these children live with fear that harm will come to a cherished pet. Some have witnessed an abuser causing direct harm to an animal. Some of these children re-enact their own pain on their own pets.

Although protocols for identification and intervention have been developed, little attention is paid in our society to the very clear connections between animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence.

Imagine what we could do if we focused our outrage towards Vick towards something more productive–enhancing our child serving systems to be more equipped to deal with the collective concerns.

My hope is that Okey’s Promise is one way that we can redirect the energy towards positive change. Will you join me in redirecting the outrage to a more effective dialog?

We can’t do much to change Michael Vick at this stage in the game. But think of how many others whose lives we could change.

Let’s make a promise to do just that.


UPDATE: I have been challenged on my claim that Michael Vick has done little to move towards redemption. Some claim that he has made efforts though work with the Humane Society of the United States. Others question his authenticity and the Humane Society’s willingness to work with him. I make no judgment on this, as it truly is not the focus of this post. You can read the HSUS FAQ and decide for yourself. My hope, though, is that we will focus on prevention beyond the outrage with Okey’s Promise.

5 thoughts on “Does demonizing Michael Vick do anything productive?”

  1. I’m glad someone finally said something sensible from a counselor’s perspective. I believe change and redemption should be what our penal system is about, and part of that change should be on our part, that we don’t perpetuate the conditions that create people like Vick.

  2. Thx J.P.

    Bernadette–I agree. the issue is twofold. We need to address the conditions that lead individuals to cause harm to those less able to defend themselves. Children growing up in pain will eventually re-enact that pain on others–human and/or creatures–to their own detriment as well as their victims.

    But the issue of redemption is essential too. We need to do a better job of rehabilitating people who have made poor choices, and recognizing that they need support. I am guilty myself. It is true that Michael Vick has made some efforts to redeem himself, for which I give him no credit in my post. Some would question his authenticity, but to say he has done nothing is a bit inaccurate. I plan to make a correction above.

  3. Excellent post. I really like how you delved into the why of Michael Vick’s abuse of animals. And re-directing energy toward the positive is always a good thing, no matter the situation. Thanks for this!

  4. Thank you Tammy! I do not presume to know the specifics of Vick’s unique situation. I do know, however, that youth growing up in similar circumstances to his are at great risk. Not only is redirecting the focus a good thing, it offers hope for those youth whose lives still have opportunity for change.

    It really is simple to do something that offers hope. Hard work, but simple and true.

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