Michael Vick, the multi-talented quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, was found to have an extensive dogfighting operation named Bad Newz Kennels. In August, he pleaded guilty to federal charges as the full truth emerged: Vick helped fund and manage the operation, and participated in training, betting on and even killing dogs.
Descriptions of the executions sicken: spraying a dog with water and then electrocuting it, slamming its head against the ground, and more. It is not clear whether Vick himself performed these dreadful deeds, but he obviously enjoyed some role in the "sport" of dog fighting.
Many aspects of the story fascinate - Vick's indefinite suspension from the NFL, the loss of endorsement deals, the animal rights issues, and more. As a highly respected professional athlete in America's most popular sport, Vick had to have known that this was a bad idea. For professional athletes and other celebrities the spotlight and scrutiny are worse. Vick had so much to lose. His own brother Marcus Vick, also a talented college quarterback, sullied his reputation through a violent incident on the football field and subsequent firearms charge.
Let's ask a simple question: how could he have been so stupid to run this operation, or have anything to do with it? Why even bother? Did his role as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL not fulfill his competitive desires? Does football's brutal violence not satisfy? What did he have to gain by running this operation?
NBA star Charles Barkley famously opined, "I'm not a role model," a stance which he later clarified by saying that professional athletes should not be role models. Instead, teachers, moral political leaders, and active community members should be role models.
Sorry, Charles. Whether athletes deserve it or not, they are role models. Vick obviously missed this in his faulty thought process. "Gee, I'm rich enough now to run my very own dog-fighting operation, which is something that I sure love let's do it!"
Think of all the kids in Atlanta, or across the entire country, who look up to people like Vick. Stations air United Way ads featuring NFL players and Read to Achieve spots with NBA stars because the public wants to see professional athletes and role models do the right thing.
Michael Vick did not do the right thing by any stretch of the imagination. This is particularly distressing because Vick was active as a volunteer in his old community. Sadly, he's not at all alone in his indiscretions. Professional athletes (and college athletes, for that matter) in every conceivable sport have a colorful history of wrongdoing and criminal action.
The NBA boasts a long series of legal problems, from the since-dismissed rape charges against Kobe Bryant, to the rampant drug use in the 1970s that almost destroyed the league. Let's not even start on baseball's steroid problems, nor the multitude of other NFL athletes who have been arrested or suspended just during the last six months. Dog fighting isn't even unique to the Vick case: in 2004, Qyntel Woods was investigated by the NBA for dogfighting, and later waived by the Portland Trail Blazers.
Professional athletes need to think before they act, and are responsible for their actions and their roles in society. Perhaps Michael Vick's situation and his near-universal lambasting send a timely message that the American public will absolutely not tolerate such behavior.
Even if pro athletes think they should not be role models, it does not mean that they aren't.