Yesterday Michael Vick, probably the most talented and certainly the most highly paid (130 millions over five years) quarterback in the National Football League, pleaded guilty to charges of operating a dog-fighting kennel out of his Virginia home. Vick and his pals bought dogs, trained them to fight, bet on them and when the dogs failed to win, shot them or hanged them.
There is no question Vick’s behavior was barbaric and cannot be condoned. What is also remarkable, however, is the universal coverage this story received in the North American media. There were howls of outrage, demands that Vick be jailed (which he will be), that he be banned from ever playing professional football again. And all this for a crime against dogs.
Consider this reaction in the context of other crimes committed by professional athletes. Only seven years ago another footballer, Ray Lewis, was charged with double murder. After pleading guilty to a lesser charge, Lewis resumed his football career and commentators inexpicably lauded him for “overcoming adversity.”
Just this year, footballer “Pacman” Jones was charged in connection with a shootout in which one man was paralyzed. This case received little coverage. Jones accepted a one year suspension from football and an invitation to join pro wrestling.
Basketball star Kobe Bryant was welcomed back to the NBA and all his mutli-million dollar endorsement deals after reaching an out-of-court settlement in a case of alleged rape. In fact the list of professional athletes charged with domestic violence, spousal abuse and rape is a long one. So long that these cases receive little media coverage, certainly nothing like the coverage of the Vick case.
Which raises the question. Is the abuse of dogs a more serious crime than the abuse and rape of women? As Maclean’s said in an editorial comment: “Until we hold all athletes to a similar standard, Vick’s case will stand out as disproportionate at best and deeply hypocritical at worst.”