President Barack Obama recently praised the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles for giving quarterback Michael Vick a second chance. This week, TV commentator Tucker Carlson said convicted dogfighter Vick should have been executed for his crimes.
Obviously, there's a divergence of opinion on the fate of Michael Vick.
"I'm a Christian, I've made mistakes myself, I believe fervently in second chances," Carlson said, while filling in for Sean Hannity on Fox News. "But Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did it in a heartless and cruel way. And I think, personally, he should've been executed for that. He wasn't, but the idea that the president of the United States would be getting behind someone who murdered dogs? Kind of beyond the pale."
Vick did, indeed, murder dogs. In August 2007, Vick pleaded guilty for his role in running a dog-fighting operation in a case that included graphic descriptions of dogs being hanged, electrocuted and tortured to death in other unspeakable ways.
While many dog lovers believe Vick should have been subjected to the same treatment he gave his fighting dogs, many others have seen fit to give Vick a shot at redemption - especially Eagles' fans who hope he can lead the team to a Super Bowl victory.
It's a tough call. Vick's crimes certainly were heinous; hurting animals in the way Vick did was akin to hurting helpless children.
But was his crime unforgiveable? Vick served 19 months in prison and was suspended by the NFL. As part of his probation, Vick has volunteered with the Humane Society and given speeches to children about the evils of animal abuse.
When he was released in May 2009, Vick was taken under the wing of former NFL head coach Tony Dungy, who has mentored other troubled players. Dungy has since testified that Vick has changed his ways and that his rehabilitation is a success.
He was signed as the quarterback of the Eagles in 2009, and he has led the team to a playoff berth and the NFC East division title this year. On Tuesday, he was selected as a starting quarterback for the Pro Bowl.
Obama, during a call to congratulate Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie for plans to power the team's stadium with alternative energy sources, also praised him for giving Vick a second chance. After that comment provoked a heated debate about Vick, the White House issued a statement saying the president's comments were consistent with his view that "individuals who have paid for their crimes should have an opportunity to contribute to society again."
One critic noted that if Obama really believed in second chances, he would have adopted a dog from a shelter. True enough, perhaps, but I lean toward agreeing with the president.
We may be selectively forgiving of Vick because he is a gifted athlete. But we also may be selectively unforgiving because he is in the national spotlight.
Vick might end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but no one is likely to forget that he also is a dog-killer. Who can name any other member of Vick's dog-fighting ring?
But, as the president noted, he has served his time, and he has shown remorse, which those close to him have found convincing. We shouldn't forget that the potential for rehabilitation is an integral part of our system of justice.
No one likes to be fooled. An act of contrition can be just that - a well staged but hollow act, a con.
But real contrition and genuine rehabilitation offer hope to all of us who are less than perfect. Successful rehabilitation also reassures us that not only does the justice system work but also that our values are not misplaced.
America has been known as a nation where people could get a second chance, but mostly in the sense of reinventing themselves and starting an entirely new life. Foreigners could come here and leave their pasts behind; American-born sinners could disappear into the vast wilderness and start anew.
Both are harder to do nowadays, especially if you are one of the most gifted quarterbacks in the NFL. Vick must perform his acts of contrition in a very public theater.
I say, give the guy another chance and applaud him if he succeeds.
ABOUT THE WRITER
James Werrell is the Rock Hill Herald's opinion page editor. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.