Thursday, August 20, 2009

The difference between what’s just and what’s fair

When you are living in a city that is rabid about its sports teams, you tend to hear all the gossip almost as soon as it happens. Michael Vick signing with the Philadelphia Eagles is no different. I am not an Eagles fan (in fact, I loathe them, but that's another story), but even if I were I'd have to seriously reconsider my loyalties. After the dog fighting scandal and the overwhelming disgust shown by the American people as a result, you'd think he'd be a pariah in our society, and certainly not a hot pick for a football team. Apparently, I stand corrected.

Now there is justice, and then there is fairness. According to the courts system, "justice" has been served for Michael Vick. He was sentenced to prison, served his time and is now released back into society to become a productive citizen once more. Considering criminal justice and criminology are my fields of study, I would usually be one of the first people to recognize the logic of this system. But I don't feel like Vick's punishment even remotely reflects the crime. The animals on his Bad Newz Kennels were tortured. Many died, and others were so physically and psychologically traumatized they needed to be humanely put down. These dogs didn't get to spend their time being the big man on campus at some federal prison where he was most definitely deferred to as the local celebrity. I don't think Michael Vick ever had to worry about dropping the soap or getting shanked in the chow line. Let's face it: the bastard got off easy. But the courts think he's paid his debt to society and should be a free man once more. That is their interpretation of justice.

Now what would be fair? Well, these dogs didn't get preferential treatment when Vick was hanging the weakest of them for losing matches, or starving them to make them vicious fighters. Vick is out of prison, true. But she should never get to go back to his old life. The damage to these animals cannot be undone, and he should not be allowed to wipe his slate clean and pretend nothing ever happened. That is a mockery of what is right. It's just not fair. Does he deserve to make a living? Of course he does. The stigma of a conviction should not be an insurmountable barrier for anyone. But should he get to play professional football, certainly not a right but a rare privilege, and make millions? Absolutely not. He should certainly get a job. Maybe he can flip burgers, stock shelves or clean up dog parks.

So who wins in the end? Surprisingly, it's the dogs. Through incredible amounts of patience, handwork and unwavering love, many of these dogs have found families and loving homes. In fact, some have become ambassadors for the pit bull breed, disproving the myth that they are natural born killers. If they are naturally born to do anything, it's probably snuggling. Look at Leo. This handsome guy with his colorful clown collar is covered in scars from his fighting days. But his new career? He's now a service dog, keeping chemo patients company during their treatments and showing them that anything is possible, no matter how bleak things may look. He is proof that in spite of cruelty, and in spite of Michael Vick, there is always a chance for another start. Now that is a good dog.

So to all the Eagles fans out there, keep on loving your team if you must, but if you love animals and human decency too, then maybe you should rethink your alliances.

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