Michael Smerconish: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, still dogged by his past

Posted: November 18, 2010

THERE WAS a terrific scene in "Animal House" (arguably the greatest piece of cinematography ever) in which a fraternity pledge is with a date who passes out in bed.

As the young man contemplates taking liberties with his guest, an angel appears on one shoulder and counsels him to act morally. On the other, a devil encourages the alternative. The would-be fraternity member is left to weigh their competing advice.

I think of that scene whenever I watch Michael Vick and contemplate whether I should root for his success.

After lots of thought, I'm rooting for the Eagles, but I still can't bring myself to cheer for their superstar quarterback.

The angel reminds me that the Eagles organization doesn't attract problem players (aside, of course, from a fling with a certain wide receiver). They seem like a sound outfit. Andy Reid is a thoughtful guy. Jeffrey Lurie is a reported dog lover. If they can come to terms with hiring Vick, maybe I should, too.

And I recognize that the man has paid his debt to society. If there's a market for his services, he's entitled to make a living. Like the rest of us, he needs to eat.

But I also hear the word of the devil, or at least I read it, in "The Lost Dogs" by Jim Gorant, senior editor at Sports Illustrated, in which he chronicles what happened to the pit bulls owned by Vick and Bad Newz Kennels.

The good news is that 47 of 51 were salvaged. The bad news is what happened to them before that - because of Vick and his accomplices.

As Gorant describes it, the dogs would be forced into a square pit with low walls. On the ground was usually a rug meant to give the dogs better traction as they attacked. Sometimes the carpet was a light color so the bloodstains were more pronounced.

The dogs were restrained behind diagonal scratch marks in opposite corners of the ring.

At a referee's call, they were unleashed. Dogs that wouldn't fight were killed. So were the ones that lost. Often by horrifying methods that make helmet-to-helmet hits look like love taps.

Those that lived long enough to see Vick's arrest and conviction were physically broken.

Psychologically, Gorant told me in an interview last month, several maintained their serious aggression toward other dogs.

But most just lived in a constant state of fear. They were in such bad shape that even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals doubted they could be rehabilitated.

Thankfully, most of them were.

Some are used in hospitals as therapy dogs for patients. Almost 20 have been adopted. Others are still trying to exorcise the demons on their shoulders in a sanctuary, Gorant told me.

One of the central themes of his book is that the dogs should be thought of individually, as opposed to one group of "Michael Vick's dogs."

"I went into it knowing about pit bulls what most people do," Gorant said. "Just the bad stuff. But once you start looking behind that, there's really a lot of good information there. You find out that they're really not the mythical menaces they've been made out to be.

"It's just, they can be manipulated in bad ways."

That angel on my shoulder is saying that maybe the same can be said about the man himself.

And that Vick has probably been punished more severely (in terms of time and money) than any other dogfighting offender in the nation.

But I still can't wish for the individual success of a man who traveled up and down the East Coast to watch two dogs maul each other. A man owned property where dogs were chained to car axles half-buried in the woods. A man who admitted to participating in the drowning and hanging of some of those dogs.

His actions were just too twisted, too cruel, too malign.

I'm for the Eagles, for Reid, for a city so desperate for a Super Bowl victory. But I'm not prepared to root for Vick the individual to get it done. For now, the best I can do is to not root against him.

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at www.smerconish.com.

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