Stu Bykofsky: Can Vicious Vick ever earn my respect?

Fans try to peek through the fence and hedges Saturday at the Novacare Center, in South Philly, to catch a glimpse of Michael Vick in his first practice as an Eagle.
Fans try to peek through the fence and hedges Saturday at the Novacare Center, in South Philly, to catch a glimpse of Michael Vick in his first practice as an Eagle.
Posted: August 17, 2009

HAD YOU asked me, I would have wanted Michael Vick's punishment to duplicate what he had done to poor dogs - beating, hanging, shooting, drowning, electrocution.

But we are civilized. We don't do that.

His soulless, vicious sadism branded Vick a monster minus conscience.

At the time, animal-lovers and others asked if I thought Vick would ever play football again.

I said yes. He would go through the now-familiar process - counseling, rehab, remorse, jail. He would emerge and find a hungry team desperate enough to take him and his freight-car baggage.

I never dreamed it would be my team.

As a lover of both animals and justice, I am conflicted. Many aren't.

Most animal-lovers wouldn't spit on Vick if his hair was on fire. The most rabid Eagles fans are so starved they'd sell their first-born for a Super Bowl win.

I am not rabid but, like the NFL, I'd let him play.

I don't forgive him and I still believe in tough sentences.

Vicious Vick got one.

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson slammed him with one of the heaviest sentences I have seen for the offenses he committed. (I will vomit the next time I hear Vick or an apologist lamely say he "made a mistake." It was a merciless felony - repeated dozens of times. He didn't just "run a dogfighting ring," he was an active torturer and likely a killer.)

Vick deserved the heavy sentence. Hudson recognized the danger that lurks in the sick minds of animal-abusers. He also questioned Vick's veracity and contrition.

Vick has done his time. He has expressed remorse. Some say he has "suffered enough." No, Vick's dogs suffered. What he did was pay a debt to society.

Prison has two functions - to punish and to rehabilitate. Vick has been punished, but is he reformed? I can't say what's in Vick's heart. I'm not always sure of what's in my own heart.

Vick killed his reputation along with his dogs, and will have to work long, very long, and hard to earn it back. He has begun speaking out against dogfighting, but that's only a two-yard gain. Because he's a longtime liar, Vick should show sincerity by sending a large slice of his salary to the Pennsylvania SPCA's underfunded Animal Care and Control Team. That would be fitting, because most of the homeless dogs in the kennel are pit bulls, the same breed he tortured.

Getting ready to leave for work Friday morning, I grabbed my black Eagles cap, then stopped. I asked myself if the hat might send a message of support.

If so, wrong message. I wore another black cap with a bird logo - my Temple Owls hat.

While intellectually I can accept Vick's hiring, it sickens me. I will not buy nor wear Eagles green as long as Vick wears Eagles green.

Other (former) Eagles fans are selling their tickets on eBay and organizing boycotts of Eagles' sponsors.

Fine with me.

Vick might make his first game appearance Aug. 27 at the Linc. Outside, let's have pickets. Inside, the first time he sets his sorry foot on the field, let's give Vicious Vick a real Philly welcome. I don't have to be more specific, do I?

The hire is sad in many ways:

* Instead of a Super Bowl berth, the Birds bought what they hate - a "distraction." They divided their fan base.

* They're letting Vick wear Ron Jaworski's No. 7? It was Vick's number in Atlanta, but he's in Philly and that number belongs to one of our heroes.

* Didn't the Eagles brag on "high character" players?

What happened? Did Andy Reid's experience with his sons turn him into Father Flanagan? Did Jeff Lurie ask himself WWJD?

Am I right to mock them?

If you think about it, hiring ex-cons is not just kind to them, it's smart for us. Take away the opportunity to earn an honest living, they'll resort to crime. (I admit that being allowed to "earn a living" doesn't mean we owe the bankrupt Vick an NFL salary.)

I believe in rehabilitation and redemption, because the world would be black as midnight without hope. How can I say it's OK for some other team to hire him, but not my team? That sounds a little hypocritical, a little NIMBY - Not In My Back Yard. In the battle between my principles and my feelings, principles win because they are based on reason.

So I accept what the Eagles did, like I accept my arthritis, but I don't celebrate it. And I don't accept it without protest.

I know that if he throws a touchdown pass, fans will cheer Vick. Most of them, but not me.

Vicious Vick needs a whole lot more than six points to start earning my respect.

E-mail stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. For recent columns:

http://go.philly.com/byko.

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