Annette John-Hall: Vick's redemption goes deeper than football

Posted: August 16, 2009

As predictably as my puggle, Angel, does her business in the morning, animal activists lined up outside the NovaCare Complex on Friday to welcome Michael Vick to Philadelphia.

Posters thrust high, dog jokes abounding, and analysis of Vick's signing being analyzed - the circus has begun.

But here's the shocker: I could actually see my Angel slathering Vick with kisses.

See, that's the remarkable thing about dogs. They have this innate, benevolent ability to judge you by your latest act of kindness - not your worst moment of cruelty.

Not so much for us humans, though. Even though Vick has rightfully paid a price for his heinous - and I do mean heinous - acts and has done his time, going from riches to rags and glory to disgrace, there are still legions of people who aren't willing to give him a second chance.

We forgive abusive jocks who beat their wives, pedophile teachers and priests, and thieving politicians - few of whom ever go to jail - but crimes against dogs? Lock him up and throw away the key.

Or, at the very least, take away his livelihood so that he can never contribute to society again.

Well, like it or not, Vick's an Eagle now. And flanking him like protective linemen at last week's news conference were Eagles coach Andy Reid, a man whose own wayward sons know a thing or two about second (and third and fourth) chances, and Super Bowl coach Tony Dungy, now retired, whose son, tragically, committed suicide before he got that second chance to find his way.

Now, they're huddling around Vick, making sure he doesn't blow his second chance. This goes deeper than football.

And they all know it.

 

Oh, I'm sure a lot of folks won't be breaking down doors to buy No. 7 jerseys. But Vick's arrival in Philadelphia, with all the drama that will confront him and his new team here and on the road, gives us a chance to be crucial characters in his redemption story. Quite the irony for a City of Brotherly Love not known for forgiveness.

It's a tricky notion, redemption. I'm no expert, so I called my pastor.

"There are a couple of key parts to redemption," says the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church. "The person in need of forgiveness has to be able to forgive themselves. And the community has to be willing to give the person a second chance.

"Do you only rejoice when a person is down and you have nothing good to say, despite all he has gone through?" Tyler asks.

That would be PETA. The rabid animal-rights organization, which was reportedly in talks with Vick to do public-service announcements, want no part of him and his rehabilitation.

"There are no signs that this man is remorseful or even understands things from the dog's perspective at all, so, no, we won't work with him," PETA's Jaime Zalac says.

A dog's perspective? What about a human's?

It's funny, the things we value. We'll step over a homeless person to feed a mutt. We'll wait two excruciating days to help citizens floating away on rooftops after Hurricane Katrina, but come together in record time to organize a rescue and memorial for Katrina's pets - and the pets didn't even have signs pleading for help.

Vick already has begun outreach for the Humane Society of the United States, talking to kids in urban communities who may be lured into dogfighting.

The city, and the suburbs for that matter, have had their share of animal-cruelty cases, so we're on fertile ground for Vick's message.

"If Michael Vick wants to help and he has the potential to reach people and change the lives of kids who are drawn into this quicksand, and I say no [to him], I'm abdicating my responsibility," Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle told a group of members recently.

Vick, not allowed to have pets - or know the unconditional love they bring - as a child, began smuggling dogs into abandoned houses and training them to fight when he was only 8. No one stopped him then.

"Michael Vick can speak to a lot of kids we can't speak to," Pacelle says.

While the hope is he'll save the lives of animals, his biggest contribution may be to human society.

He has the chance to be the kind of role model he didn't have. To talk to kids, many of whom can't see their future, about the value of valuing life, something that doesn't require making millions of dollars or being famous.

This is no video game. It's a real-life Michael Vick Experience - and the last step to redemption: Proving you've changed.


Contact columnist Annette John-Hall

at 215-854-4986 or ajohnhall@phillynews.com. Read her work: http://go.philly.com/annette

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