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Michael Vick: Black Sheep or Scapegoat on Animal Rights?

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Several years ago, I was attending a fundraiser for an animal rights organization hosted by a prominent couple who lived in the Las Vegas area. Like me, the husband had been pulled through the door of the animal rights movement by his significant other, but had become a dedicated vegetarian after being exposed to the facts and opinions of the animal rights community regarding meat production and consumption. He told me that his conversion was particularly tough, as he had grown up in Texas. I suggested that not eating meat in Texas must be a special kind of blasphemy. He said, "Shoot, man. We used to barbecue the whole herd and throw away half!" I just started at him, unblinking, for about five seconds.

I recalled that exchange when I saw that Michael Vick signed with the Eagles.

I have supported and/or worked with a number of animal rights groups, both local and national. Whether it be donating to pet adoption facilities like the North Shore Animal League on Long Island, opposing the carriage horses in Central Park, hosting fundraisers for the Performing Animal Welfare Society in San Andreas, California or appearing in video programs for PETA, protecting the rights of animals has been important to me ever since my ex-wife introduced me to Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco, the founders of PETA. I learned about issues involving the crash-testing of live animals by Detroit carmakers, the use of monkeys and other animals in medical experimentation and the testing of everything from medicines to machinery to make-up for the purposes of measuring product liability. I learned about how meat is produced and slaughtered, how milk is "manufactured" and, thanks to Dr. Neal Barnard and the Physicians for Responsible Medicine, how childhood obesity and related illnesses have soared over the past 25 years due to the poor diets of kids hooked on fast food. I learned about the horrific abuses of animals in circuses, zoos, rodeos, thoroughbred horse racing and anywhere that animals are used in performances. Meeting an unimaginably dedicated soul like Pat Derby or Ed Stewart of PAWS changed my life.

What Vick did is, obviously, senseless and reprehensible. But I believe Vick, as a wealthy and talented athletic superstar who performs his job out in the open before crowds of amped-up and highly opinionated fans, suffers an unfair disadvantage as compared to, say, the heads of a meatpacking plant or the directors of a medical research lab where animals are suffering the cruelest imaginable abuses behind walls and doors that remove them from our sight and, therefore, judgments. Vick did horrific things and he deserved to be punished. He served his time and now I wonder what good does it do to exile him in shame and not let him show his example of how one can be rehabilitated after that kind of behavior. If Vick returns to his true form as an NFL pro, that platform can mean real progress for the animal rights movement. Or do some people really not want to open that conversation? Vick is one man who, along with his friends, brutally tortured and killed many innocent dogs and called it a sport. Each day in this country, millions upon millions of animals are suffering lives of daily abuse in factory farming, but we turn away because that animal, unlike Vick's dogs, ends up on a grill and then on our plates. Animals that are not raised as pets suffer in ways that you and I don't really want to know. And in economic hard times like now, support for groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other prominent players in the animal rights movement, drops precipitously.

Vick is easy to target as a villain. But the man who should have been setting an example for his young fans about how to comport oneself off the field can still do so. Donating a healthy figure from his enormous salary to any mixture of animal rights groups seems like a good start to me. I have a list for Vick when he is ready. But to ban Vick, to cast him aside and simply hate him, knowing that someone in his position stands potentially ready (and I do stress potentially) to effectively serve the interests of the very groups and individuals that he most offended, would be a mistake. Especially when there are enterprises operating in this country who will torture and kill more animals than a thousand Michael Vicks ever could, but you can not buy a ticket to watch them perform their job on a Sunday afternoon.

Vick deserves another chance. One chance. Just like all of us who eat meat, drink milk, attend rodeos, circuses, zoos and horse races and yet find it easier to hand Vick the bill for all of the other, more systemic abuses in our society may find ourselves needing another chance one day. Just like Michael Vick.

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