The land of second chances? We'll see

If disgraced quarterback Michael Vick - due to be released from prison in weeks - does play again in the NFL, the animal rights groups are fully entitled to protest and call for boycotts. Fans at the park can boo his every move. Ticket holders can cancel their seats. But when a man serves his punishment, he deserves a second chance.

Disgraced quarterback Michael Vick makes a play at a comeback

I love dogs.

From elementary school through to my first years at university, Skipper, a spaniel cross of no special lineage, was always at my heel.

One of Michael Vick's dogs hides in its shelter at Best Friends animal sanctuary, north of Kanab, Utah, in February 2008. Vick was convicted in a federal dogfighting case in 2007 and has been serving a 23-month prison term. (Douglas C. Pizac/Associated Press)

He went to school with me. Lay under the snooker table as I whiled away way too many hours in small town Manitoba. And, on one memorable afternoon in the early 1950s, we crashed a Spike Jones concert at the Wheat City Arena.

Jones had a gambit during the concert where one of his musicians played a violin made out of a tree branch. It wailed and whined at a very high, squeaky level, which made Skipper race up onto the stage and bark at the offensive musician.

Jones loved it because the audience was bent over laughing. I loved it because Skip showed he had class and knew bad talent when he heard it.

My family doesn't have a dog now - probably just as well, since no dog could ever meet the Skipper standard.

I also have no time for dog fighting. It's barbaric and those who participate in it at any level are cruel psychopaths as far as I am concerned.

Michael Vick

In the early 1980s, I investigated a resurgence in dog fighting for a public affairs show when the so-called sport was going through one of its occasional up periods. In the process, I met with some truly despicable people.

In an interview with one of the trainers, he described how he held test fights with his dogs when they were very young to determine which ones had the fighting spirit. If one of the puppies did not show "spunk," as he described it, he would kill the animal by shooting it in the head. "Can't feed a yellow dog," he said. "Too expensive."

I mention all this because Michael Vick, the former star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, has now been released from prison for his role in bank-rolling a dog-fighting ring.

Vick will be on house arrest and only be allowed to spend 10 hours a day outside his home. The court has ordered that he work during this period on a construction site, where he will earn $10 an hour.

On July 20, he will have completed his 23-month sentence and will be free to get on with his life.

No pity from me

Michael Vick is seen leaving the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va., following his arraignment in July 2007. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/Associated Press)

Vick, who earned $140-million in his first seven years in an Atlanta uniform, is broke now, having filed for bankruptcy at the beginning of this year. The expensive homes, big cars, designer suits are all gone as well. 

He has been disgraced forever and there are millions of Americans who will never forgive what he has done. 

But Vick deserves no pity.

He displayed the kind of viciousness and cruelty that this barbarism entails. As well as raising and fighting his own dogs out of his Bad Newz Kennels, he apparently bankrolled a large dog-fighting ring, staged fighting events and killed animals, not only in battle but as punishment.

He also displayed an arrogance that was outstripped by his stupidity in assuming that somehow this activity would never be found out. If he was caught, he apparently thought a slap on the wrist would be penalty enough.

His associates, who can only be described as Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest, quickly ratted out their benefactor in exchange for softer sentences and penalties.

Vick was not pampered, nor did he get off easy at Leavenworth prison in Kansas. He will have served every day of his sentence.

But once his well-deserved punishment ends, Michael Vick wants the second chance that everyone gets after serving his or her sentence.

In his case, he wants to play quarterback again in the NFL. It's the only job he has ever had and there is presumably more football left in his talented body.

Fourth and long

Atlanta has said they do not want him back, but there is doubtless some team with a losing record and empty seats in the stands that will take a chance on Vick.

Public condemnation is a certainty, particularly from animal rights groups, like People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, (PETA). This group has already pledged to campaign against any team that would hire Vick by staging protests at the ballpark.

Sponsors will be asked to withdraw their financial support from this team or their products will be boycotted.

PETA says they want to ensure Vick is "genuinely remorseful." 

Early this year, Vick's supporters approached PETA, offering to have Vick record television and radio messages for the organization condemning dog fighting and his involvement. PETA turned that offer down saying they wanted Vick to submit to a brain scan and psychiatric tests first.

Many of his supporters believe PETA has decided that keeping Vick as the villain of the piece brings more attention to their public crusade for animal rights than any mea culpas he would record.

Matching PETA's sanctimony is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell also wants evidence of Vick's "contrition and genuine remorse."

Perhaps he should try talking to former NFL coach Tony Dungy, who actually visited Vick in Leavenworth.

Dungy favours Vick's return, saying, "I think Michael is just like so many other guys that I have seen, so many other people who are nameless, faceless in that environment. He's a young man who made a mistake and is looking for a chance to recover and move forward, That's where he is."

Pointing out that the NFL has a long list of wife beaters, bar-room brawlers, drunk drivers and unlicensed gun-toters, not to mention the several players involved in shootings that have never been fully explained, does not exonerate Vick.

But it does indicate an uneven playing field. Professional football is now dealing with the Plaxico Burress incident in a New York nightclub where Plaxico, carrying a gun with no licence, accidentally shot himself in the leg. The Giants cut him but several other NFL teams are trying to sign the wide receiver for this fall.

And what about Leonard Little, the St. Louis Rams' star defensive end who in 1998 killed a woman while driving drunk. Little was suspended for eight games.  In 2004, he was again arrested for DUI, with no suspension at all.

The family of  Susan Gutweiler from Oakville, Missouri, surely feel their loss is more important than tortured dogs.

If Vick does play, the animal rights groups are fully entitled to protest and call for boycotts. Fans at the park can boo his every move. Ticket holders can cancel their seats. But when a man serves his punishment, he deserves a second chance.