September 1, 2007 - August 25, 2007
I'll begin with a personal anecdote, because I'm
not pretending to be objective here.
One of the places I grew up in was my grandfather's house. A large Victorian thing on two and a half acres that backed up to a creek. The garage -- two bays and a stall for the pony, and cart, my grandparents used as transportation during the gas-rationing of World War II -- was far removed from the house. When my parents took it over during my teenage years, the tennis court next to the garage had gone fallow -- a flat expanse of clover behind overgrown hedges past which there was nothing but a dip in elevation before the reed wall of the creek to remind anyone of the pony's paddock. I was the only one who used the old garage; a new one had been built closer to the house. I was working on my old convertible down there one day when I became aware of flies -- a lot of them, fat buzzy, annoying. I wandered out onto the old tennis court. The flies were coming from closer to the creek. There was a big mulberry tree on the dividing line between the tennis court and what had been the pony's paddock. That's where the flies were centered. I approached the tree. And then I saw it.
I had to tell my mother why I needed to call the police. I couldn't keep her away. When she saw it, she dissolved. Someone had hanged a Dalmatian in the mulberry tree. It was no longer a beauteous white and black. It was gray, bloated, teeming with flies and maggots, a horrid stench that exploded when the shocked policemen cut it down. It landed with a thump you can't imagine and don't want to. We were all horrified beyond our expectations. It wasn't an animal carcass. It was a body, brutally murdered. The noose was a leash.
The two sagging policemen helped me bury it. My mother couldn't stop crying. I couldn't cry. I was in some kind of zone between loathing and rage that wouldn't permit me to shed tears. The police never found the perpetrator. After a day or two, my mother and I never spoke of it again. We seemed to agree without words that it had never happened. If it had, you'd have to cut down the tree and dynamite the paddock.
Which brings us to Monday Night Vickball. I'm giving Ron Jaworski a provisional pass because he's brand new in replacing the appalling Joe Theisman as a color announcer. He doesn't want to get embroiled in anything like a racial controversy, and so he gave his mealy-mouthed assessment that maybe Vick has embarked on a path of atonement that will ultimately be successful. Uh-huh.
I'm not giving a pass to Tony Kornheiser or the Other Guy, or to the ESPN post-game show, all of which were focused laser-like on the idiotic question of what Michael Vick has to do to return to NFL stardom. The Atlanta Falcons played the Cincinnati Bengals in a preseason game. Kornheiser never paid the slightest attention to the game and never stopped talking for a moment about Michael Vick and what it will take to bring him back to fan and league acceptance. He waxed eloquent about the importance of Vick as the primary face of Atlanta sports, about the poverty of Georgian life if Vick were (gasp!) permanentlyy exiled from the NFL. The post-game show (Sportcenter?) picked up where Kornheiser left off, offering us apologists like Emmitt Smith, who assured us of the sincerity of Vick's vapid, lawyer-scripted apology, and images of Atlanta fans still wearing their Number 7 jerseys as if athletic ability really were some kind of divine dispensation for every kind of failing. The word 'mistake' was used so often by fans and ESPN sportscasters that one could almost be forgiven for believing that Michael Vick had simply forgotten to pay a vet not to kill his dogs.
Two points. First, Michael Vick is a substantial corporate asset of the NFL and ESPN. Corporate employees will be employed to rehabilitate his image as much as possible before he gets sentenced.
Second. And pay attention to this one. Financing a dog-fighting kennel and executing dogs who don't fight well enough are not mistakes. Deliberately killing even one dog is not a mistake. We're not talking here about the careless driving habits of Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan. We're talking about the cold-blooded cruelty required to participate in a sport which compels one dog to kill another dog or be killed by his master if he fails. Try to imagine yourself hanging a dog. Watch it jerk and shriek at the end of its leash. Watch it die. Can't imagine it? Join a very large club. But a very few people CAN imagine it. They can actually DO it. We're talking about something missing in the makeup of a human being. That something missing is not something you suddenly discover is missing when the government indicts you. It's just missing. It's an essential part of humanity you'll never have. Getting caught is not an opportunity for confession, redemption, and forgiveness. It's just exposure.
It's also not something that fundamentalist Jesus-ism can fix. If there's one area where fundamentalist Christians are most vulnerable morally, it's in their view of animals. They insist that dogs and cats have no souls. (Catholics and Episcopalians know otherwise; indeed, we count on it.) Who's more likely to forgive Michael Vick than these folks? Even Air America is quite properly offended.
The truth is, all corporate interests aside, Michael Vick is done. The
mouthpieces of the NFL and ESPN just don't get it. He
will never play in the NFL
again. The national NAACP had it right.
Michael Vick has to take responsibility for what he has done. And
sometimes, taking responsibility means taking responsibility for acts
that cannot be forgiven by men, but only God.
There are a lot of us who will never forgive Michael Vick. He killed dogs and he made them suffer. That's not a mistake. It's a sin. If the NFL and ESPN and all its announcers and publicists can't understand this, I pity them as much as I pity Michael Vick.
And Tony Kornheiser? Go to hell.
UPDATE. Thanks to Dean Barnett and welcome to Hugh Hewitt readers. For a moment as hopeful as this post is dark, go here. You'll feel better. I guarantee it.
UPDATE 2. It's interesting and educational to read the first half two dozen or so comments on the Dean Barnett post that links to this one. They seem to reflect a consensus that the outrage about Michael Vick's dog-killing is hyperbole. After all, they're JUST dogs, right? Is anyone else uncomfortable about associating with conservatives of this stripe? Is there some kind of Maslow's hierarchy of cruelty out there which enables people to distinguish one act of brutish inhumanity from another and thereby dismiss the unimportant and irrelevant ones? Or are we hearing finally from the secret sadists among us who go out of their way to run down cats on the road and yet congratulate themselves for their love of children? By all means, tell them what you think. UPDATE 2A. Who are these people? If we kill chickens or beef cattle to eat or hunt deer to control their populations, what's so bad about killing dogs? (And don't get me started on the "dominion" quote from the Bible...) These are the same people who contemn the kind of moral equivalency practiced by liberals. I don't want any of them near my life or near anyone I care about.
Here's a fact you won't like: If you can drown a puppy or a kitten, you can kill a human child. The only thing that stops you from doing the latter is the fear of getting caught. The act itself involves the same callousness about the pain and suffering of a helpless creature. Morality does involve the ability to discriminate, which is not the dirty word todays's illiterates have been taught to believe it is. If you had to choose -- in some bizarre circumstance -- between the life of a human being and the life of a dog, I would expect you to choose the human being -- and then take a long time getting over the cost of your decision. Dogs are different. They are not cattle, pigs, sheep, deer, chickens, or insects. (Although I will note that society used to look askance at children who enjoyed pulling the wings off flies. And btw, a great many dog people also don't hunt or pull the wings off flies.). Some anthropologists even date the beginning of civilization to the initial partnership between men and dogs. In fact, serious academic arguments have been made that dogs played a major role in the development of human consciousness as we think of it today. Dogs are capable of virtues fundies would like to consider solely human -- love, altruism, sacrifice, and forgiveness. They also have emotions, a sense of humor, intelligence, problem-solving ability, better cross-species language-learning skills than humans have, and even a capacity for deception. They are, to a significant degree, conscious creatures. No, they are not human, but if your definition of humanity does not include the ability to distinguish between a dog and a chicken in moral terms, I'm not much interested in what you have to say about anything.
How dare you protest the outrage civilized people feel about the barbaric behavior of Michael Vick? How dare you.
I probably shouldn't lead with this, but here in the Delaware Valley
the 'Battle of Pennsylvania' between the Eagles and the Steelers is a
noteworthy event, even when it occurs during the preseason. There's a
lot of ugly out there in sports at the moment -- Vick,
Donaghy, Bonds et al -- and it's supposed to be reassuring when the
focus moves from hearing rooms and law courts to the field of play. But
early on the game struck a sour note with me. Not because of the indifferent
play of the Eagles, which may or may nor portend anything about the
upcoming season, but because of what happened after the first Steeler
touchdown. Willie Parker ran hard and well. He scored. Then he felt
compelled to perform a clownish strut through the end zone. I should be
used to it by now, but this time I felt a faint disgust.
The disgust had nothing to do with my Eagle partisanship. It had to do with what I'd witnessed earlier in the day and, probably, the gradually increasing childishness of the behavior I've observed in professional sports for a long time now. The NFL and the NBA are the worst offenders. They're already macho sports, requiring strength, speed, toughness, and skill. Why do they also suddenly require the deliberate taunting of opponents and the choreographed self idolatry of a bullying seventh-grade jock? Only a boy needs to loudly proclaim his manhood, and only a jerk thinks an achievement is somehow enhanced by festooning it with extravagant self-flattery.
It may seem a petty complaint in the grand scheme of what's wrong with sports, but I believe there's a link between the crimes of a Michael Vick and the graceless showboating that's become commonplace on court and field. If one were to draw up a list of the selfish egotists who flout team rules and delay games with their preening theatrics, my bet is that the overwhelming majority of them would be the product of single-parent homes, specifically fatherless homes. They don't know what it is to be men, and so they distort, and sometimes ruin, their lives by disguising their insecurities with over-the-top parodies of manhood -- guns, groupies, posses, roosterish clothes and antics, and, yes, fighting dogs.
What would a real dad -- or the right kind of early male role model -- have done for them? Well, that's exactly what I'd seen earlier in the day at the finale of the Little League World Championship in Williamsport, PA. Most of you have probably seen the headline that matters most at ESPN: GEORGIA BEATS JAPAN WITH 8TH INNING WALK-OFF HOMERUN!
But if you didn't watch the contest itself, you missed all the
important stuff. You missed an incredibly well played game on both
sides, featuring extraordinary pitching, heads-up fielding and
base-running, and wise coaching that corrected mistakes without
punishing them. You missed the moms and dads and brothers and sisters
in the stands who agonized through all the suspenseful moments, hardly
daring to look at times but having to look, cheering the great plays,
and wincing at the letdowns. You missed kids who cared so much about
the game and each other that they see-sawed between beaming smiles and
the struggle not to give in to tears when they felt they'd let down the
team. You missed the elation of the winning homerun, and you missed the
heartbreaking collapse of the Japanese pitcher who had thrown the fatal
pitch. It was as if the ball had physically knocked him to his knees.
And you missed what to its enormous credit, the Macon Telegraph did not, a display of graciousness by 12-year-old kids that would put most professional athletes to shame. Here's the Telegraph's headline and story:
Go to the site and take advantage of the opportunity to see the whole
series of evocative photographs taken by Jason Vorhees. Here are a
couple we borrowed just to whet your appetite:
The last one is of the Georgia coach consoling the pitcher who lost the
game. A man knows when there's no need to strut and thump his chest.
His players obviously learned that lesson before they took the field in
Williamsport. They're only 12 years old, which means you can learn it
But how old can you be and still learn it? A question for Michael Vick and many many others to ponder.