About the SA Blog Network

The Urban Scientist

The Urban Scientist

A hip hop maven blogs on urban ecology, evolutionary biology & diversity in the sciences
The Urban Scientist Home

In defense of Michael Vick’s right to tell his whole story

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

The Mandingo fight scene of Django Unchained really disturbed me.  Two men were fighting for their lives. They were not competing over resources for survival, like food or shelter or access to mates or to protect their young. No, they were fighting for the entertainment of others. (This is not natural, might I add.)  They were compelled to violently lash out at another, reach down deep into themselves and conjure up their most beastly, ugly, vicious pits of anger to maim and kill someone who had not provoked them. As Big Fred is required to finish off his fallen opponent, you can see how he must lose part of his humanity in order to survive.

Watching this scene made me uncomfortable; and I thought of how some dogs are forced to live this reality, too. Just being born looking like a pit bull means that some fool out in this world might think it’s a good idea to make an animal fight.  Or some municipality might decide that this breed of dog is inherently violent and bad and not worth (trying) to place in a loving home.  I’m actually a fan of bully breeds.  Some of the sweetest dogs I know are pit bull types.  To imagine any of them being forced to fight, becoming injured or dying to entertain others makes me angry.

Since the late 1980’s I saw the popularity of pit bulls increase in my neighborhood. Rumors of dog fighting increased too. D-boys were making name for themselves – tough, hyper masculine, psychologically and physically violent young men were being epitomized on the big screen and on the streets.

When Michael Vick’s charges were being listed I was sick to my stomach.  I was very vocal about Vick being prosecuted for animal cruelty. We (Black folks) were quick to speak out in support of him because many of us relate to him.  But some of our efforts came across as excusing him and I was not okay with this. Now, years later, Vick has served his time, doing community service and education and is picking up the pieces of his life. Some of the people who were crying for his punishment during the trial are still protesting him.  And I am not okay with this.

In defending Vick, because he was ‘one of our brothers’ we engaged in a no-win public discourse that continues today. Then and now, some people have aligned in one of two camps: ‘I don’t care what he did because I don’t think it was that bad’ vs. ‘he’s an animal abuser let’s punish him forever’. It’s a false dichotomy.  Neither delivers any solution or restitution or serves to inspire people to be their best selves after making mistakes. These camps tend to be racially and socioeconomically divided, too. Also, not good.

Don’t be fooled, these protests against him and his book tour is not about protecting animals or speaking out about cruelty. It is a distraction! It is bait!  Serious conversations are not being had.

In-house conversation (between Black Folk)

I saw what Vick did as a symptom of negative behavior long overlooked in our community: Hyper masculinity, violence, materialism, misogyny. He and the co-defendants needed to made an example of – not just because I believe what they did was reprehensible, but because I thought that animal abuse (and dog fighting) had been deliberately overlooked by us for too long.  In my opinion, his arrest and conviction should (and could) have spurred conversations about responsible pet ownership, the relationship between animal abuse and violence, the lack voice on urban pit bull kennels and fighting rings. Plus, there was and still is an opportunity to connect the dots between the rising fear of pit bulls (and other bully breed dogs) and proposed laws to outlaw certain dog breeds.

Oh, I get it. Like most other urban black folk, I see Michael Vick as a real person. I relate to him. He could be my brother, my cousin, and any of those boys I grew up with in South Memphis or taught in North St. Louis – talented beautiful young men, struggling to stay out of trouble, trying to earn a little money to help the family out, getting his shine on and loving the attention. He’s human. His experiences and perhaps even his interest in acquiring and raising bully dogs is a real and lived reality of quite a few inner-city neighborhoods.

The other conversation (understanding how ‘external forces’ shape African-American lives)

Michael Vick says he will not be bullied into seclusion after receiving serious death threats — and vows to continue working with community service organizations in the wake of the scare.  ~TMZ

Vick either doesn’t fully comprehend how people view the severity of the crimes he committed, or he’s getting some really bad advice. ~LZ Granderson from Michael Vick’s book miscue

I think he gets it. He gets it very well.  His entire life, especially since the legal trials, have been about him facing other people’s vitriol.  What is he suppose to do? Live in conspicuous contrition forever to appease their angry hearts. Shrink, beg forgiveness from countless faces people who obviously feel they have the right to judge him for the rest of his life. What part of this is fair?

These ‘protests’ have nothing to do with animal love – it’s about interfering with his freedom and peace. And what is happening to him serves as a springboard into how inner city folk are often denied the opportunity to ‘live past’ mistakes and start over in life.  These protests are symptomatic of how he & others are denied real legitimate opportunities to earn a living and experience redemption.

The conversation we all should be having: What is Justice?

I saw/still see his journey as an opportunity to have some very hard conversations. What is the role of punishment? How do we define crime? How are criminal codes applied to different segments of our population? Is our criminal justice system fair? How can we make it so? What is compassion/empathy? Can it be cultivated?

Michael Vick has written a book about his life and some people want him to die for it. Or at the least shut up and disappear. Fine, you don’t want to support him; but to dedicate your hard-earned energy to make him miserable seems more like an exercise of power, not a demonstration of values.  What is the purpose of exercising this power?

How I see it, Vick’s greatest offense to these ‘protesters’ is that he dared to get back up and try it again. To me, this makes him inspirational, especially in my community where young Black and Brown men are often described as ne’er-do-wells and are expected to end up as nothing. He accepted responsibility for his actions. He didn’t whine when punished or paroled. I believe he is remorseful and wants to do the right thing. I always thought that about him. I always thought his story could serve as a great example of the journey to (personal) redemption. The protestors want to limit the narrative of his experiences, thereby robbing him of his testimony.  I don’t believe that is right. And when folk step in to defend him by saying “oh, get over it, it was just a dog” they are falling into a trap and denying him his testimony, too.

I tip my hat to Vick for owning his entire story, accepting his mistakes, and coming out on the other side and not becoming bitter or angry.  If folks really want to show their support of him, then we should do so by listening – not trying to shut the conversation down. If you agree, then you stand in support of him – buy his book, book him for speaking engagements, encourage him to tell his story – and not get derailed by this false argument of people vs. pets.

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Rights & Permissions

Comments 13 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. Andrew Roth 8:07 pm 03/16/2013

    I can’t even read a magazine supposedly dedicated to science without having to endure a liberal author asking questions like “how do we define crime?” I get that talking about racial issues is your shtick, but why do you have to do it in Scientifc American? Can’t you get your own blog for these kind of articles?

    Link to this
  2. 2. Brandon Smith 8:28 pm 03/16/2013

    “I saw what Vick did as a symptom of negative behavior long overlooked in our community: Hyper masculinity, violence, materialism, misogyny.”

    Low income youth don’t act, dress, and talk like gang bangers to piss off white people. They do these things because they know it is what the girls like. The girls LOVE masculine men. They don’t like the “nerds.” I know this because I went to school in a poor nieghboorhood with a lot of Mexicans and poor whites. The girls at my high school swooned over the violent guys, the tough guys, the(forgive the profantiy) ***-holes. Girls in communities of better socioeconomic standing are socialized to not to find such men attractive. This doesn’t happen in poor communities of color.

    Link to this
  3. 3. elbo28 11:27 pm 03/16/2013

    I can’t believe all the ignorant comments pointed towards this blog! If you don’t like the content, read something else, please don’t plaster your hateful ignorance everywhere. I was raised in a low-income community and I don’t find hyper-masculine men at all attractive. My current beau is a fine arts major and I have a BS in ecology and evolutionary biology…I hate to say this cause he is an accomplished artist, but guess whose pay check is gonna be paying the bills? Admittedly, not the most masculine position to be in. Hyper-masculinity is pretty prevalent in white middle-class communities as well. Look up the stats on the link between a football team losing and domestic violence. Many times there is a huge spike in the reports of DV after the local football team loses. This happens mainly in middle-income white neighborhoods.

    I agree with what the author has said. What Vick did was wrong on a lot of levels but for crap’s sake! He did his time, he’s trying to make up for his mistakes and move on. The only reason anyone even made a big deal about this in the first place is because Michael Vick is black. Brett Farve gets addicted to pain killers and charged with sexual harassment and his sister arrested caught making meth, but everyone forgives his transgressions outright and it gets swept it under the rug.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Brandon Smith 12:46 am 03/17/2013

    @elbo28 , the exceptions don’t mke the rules. The alpha types generally get more girls than the emasculated fine arts majors. So high school boys try to emulate the alpha types. Even you have to admit that a man who can’t pay the bills isn’t very attractive?

    Link to this
  5. 5. gmperkins 6:40 pm 03/17/2013

    I was somewhat shocked by the protests, I actually believed we had a more forgiving society since we seem to forgive numerous types of criminal transgressions. I agree with the author that this could have been a moment where the media and people could have turned a bad event into a message that would have changed our thinking and views. Instead, it seems some people refuse to forgive, to believe in redemption and growth in others. It is a very cowardly view. I don’t know Michael Vick and but I do know that his treatment is not what America is supposed to stand for. Of course, we have a bit of that these days which is sad since the 60s, 70s and 80s were such literally historical shifts towards common decency for all. I feel that lately we have regressed as a society.

    Link to this
  6. 6. DNLee 7:29 pm 03/17/2013

    Thank everyone for the comments. I appreciate good dialogue. This is a very emotional topic and I feel some kind of way about it.

    Andrew Roth, sweet Andrew. This is my blog, BE-OTCH! Stay on topic, say something relevant or else be directed to File 86.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Adam Goldberg 10:31 pm 03/17/2013

    “Your blog?” Actually, this blog is a blog within Scientific American. Supposedly about SCIENCE. Also, what happened to my comment?

    Link to this
  8. 8. DNLee 3:13 pm 03/18/2013

    It is my blog. The human experience is falls within the realm of science. Science is not a vacuum – separate compartment. I am under no contract to give science explainers or mini lectures with every blog post. In fact, each blogger is encouraged to discuss general issues even personal or culturally relevant issues to the table. Discussing the breadth of human experience under the SA Blog Network umbrella is what this space is designed for.

    I’d not sure of your comment. Perhaps it was snagged by the Spam filter.

    Link to this
  9. 9. cptrbrown 8:31 pm 03/18/2013

    I think that though Vick “did his time”, it wasn’t actually for the the abuse that he inflicted himself. He managed to skate by without a conviction being placed on him for performing any of the abusive actions for which there was testimony for. And not once has he apologized for what happened. So no, I don’t think he is actually remoseful. All of the penalties he paid out in care of the dogs in sanctuary were court sanctioned fees. He hasn’t offered anything additional to support the dogs life long care.

    When approached during speaking engagements about his actions, he beats around the bush and never addresses the questions.

    It is those actions that are upsetting those of us in the community that find him repulsive. I don’t wish ill will on the man, though I don’t think he should have been allowed back into professional football because it only feeds the impression that “stars” can get away with virtually anything. I feel that most of us just want a real apology; some sort of sign that he truly is remorseful.

    Link to this
  10. 10. John Richardson 9:44 pm 03/18/2013

    This article is utterly ignorant and offensive. I know a LOT of “urban folk” who have struggled and made something of themselves w/o the benefit of multimillion dollar contracts to play a kid’s game and they somehow managed to do it w/o torturing animals or going on book tours and trying to pretend that expressing understandable but irrelevant regret over losing $100 million is somehow the same as expressing genuine remorse.

    Link to this
  11. 11. smirks 10:51 pm 03/18/2013

    When people say, “He did his time, leave him alone.” My response is always, “If a child molester did his time, then leave him/her alone as well.” They usually don’t like that response, but I believe they are of equal value….both children and animals are innocent and to do anything to either one is horrific.

    At elbo28….you are wrong on so many levels. Of all the people I know who protested him, which happends to be a lot since I belong to numerous pitbull groups, not one said anything about him being African American. It had to do with the horrible acts of murder and torture he inflicted on the animals. Further, to compare what Vick did to Bret Farve being addicted to pain killers or his sister caught with meth is assinine. They aren’t even remotely similar.

    Link to this
  12. 12. TonyTrenton 6:11 am 03/19/2013

    It is all so simple really.

    It is all about being responsible for our choices.

    Our democracy give us the freedom to make responsible choices within our society.

    That freedom of choice bares an inherent responsibility for those choices.

    Each individual must take responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings. & actions.

    When people don’t take responsibility. We have the problems we face every day.

    This is rank stupidity !!!

    Link to this
  13. 13. alleycat12345 9:46 am 03/22/2013

    Michael Vick is inherently evil..its not due to where he grew up or his social,economic background. There is something very wrong with him and what he did will never be forgiven or forgotten for that matter. Vick did something unconscionable and now he has to suffer the consequences. No one should defend him. I am proud of the people who protested Vick… We don’t live in a forgiving society.. I mean come on…the animals can’t speak for themselves so we must do it for them.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article