I have spent over 35 years in animal welfare, and currently serve as President of an organization whose very mission it is to prevent animal cruelty. So I do not exaggerate when I say that my thoughts surrounding the future of Michael Vick test the very limits of my objectivity. I have dedicated my life to bringing an end to the very activities that Mr. Vick himself admitted to perpetrating -- yet it is with the utmost level of objectivity that those of us in the animal welfare world must employ when discussing 'What next?' with Mr. Vick's career in the NFL.
Being as objective as possible, the facts are clear: Mr. Vick participated in a six-year pattern of illegal activity. His plea clearly stated that along with these activities, he savagely electrocuted and beat dogs to death after they lost their brutal fights. It is this barbarism that sets the crime apart. This was not a one-time transgression or crime of passion--this was a multi-year pattern of behavior that demonstrates a startling lack of moral character and judgment.
Regardless, Mr. Vick most decidedly deserves to be employed. However, the question isn't whether he deserves to earn a livelihood.... The question is whether Mr. Vick should be able to re-join the ranks of the elite athletes in the NFL. The NFL is not your average workplace -- with stratospheric salaries, licensing agreements, corporate endorsements and tens of millions of adoring fans, the NFL represents, to many, the achievement of 'The American Dream.' These athletes are looked upon as our heroes... our role models... and with Mr. Vick in the enviable role of quarterback, they are viewed as leaders.
Given the stature of what it means to be a part of the NFL, it is crucial that Mr. Vick first express remorse for what he has done -- something that he has yet to do throughout his incarceration. It is also critical that Mr. Vick take advantage of the opportunity granted to him by Wayne Pacelle and the Humane Society of the United States. Through his association with HSUS, Mr. Vick has a tremendous opportunity to address those many years of horrific judgment and finally demonstrate responsible community behavior.
It is this conscientious presence in their communities that truly made heroes of men like Walter Payton and Jack Kemp. These men had a sense of integrity, compassion and dedication that was apparent throughout their illustrious careers. It is these legacies that Mr. Vick should aspire to emulate.
Most people will be seeking a cut-and-dried answer to the question of whether Mr. Vick should be allowed to return to the NFL. It is simply not my place to make such an assertion -- instead, this is the challenge that awaits NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. But Mr. Goodell has amply demonstrated his capacity for leadership in the past, and as a representative of a community that truly has been tested by Mr. Vick's ruthless actions, I ask that we give Mr. Goodell the time and space to deliberate on what will undoubtedly amount to a precedent-setting decision.
Note: The ASPCA worked closely with federal authorities at every step of the case, first assisting in the investigation itself through the involvement of Dr. Melinda Merck, senior director of Veterinary Forensics with the ASPCA, and later when Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, CAAB, executive vice president of ASPCA Programs, led a team of several Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists in the behavior evaluations of the seized dogs.