Tim Noonan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 August, 2007, 12:00am

No, I am not a dog person and never have been, so maybe you know where this is going.

But even though I don't care for pooches and even though I would not be disappointed if the dog god struck my neighbour's mutts mute for the rest of their lives, I wish no malice towards them. I also believe breeding dogs to fight is inhumane.

Is that a strong enough condemnation in regards to Atlanta Falcons' quarterback Michael Vick and his guilty plea to running and financing a dogfighting ring that also brutally killed underperforming dogs?

Because these days not liking dogs seems almost like guilt by association.

So if I fail to add how morally reprehensible and insidious the actions of Vick and his cohorts are, then I run the risk of appearing sympathetic towards him. But I kind of thought all the outrage was inherent here.

Of course I am repulsed by the actions of Vick and company and now that he has pleaded guilty to the charges, he deserves to go to prison and he deserves to do his time.

What he does not deserve though is a sentence that is any more lenient or harsh due to his public status because it would lay waste to the notion of equal justice, one of the myths that the American legal system often hilariously clings to.

The animal rights lobby is hoping that judges will make an example of Vick and lock him up for a long, long time.

But what these crusading zealots fail to realise is that Vick has already been made an example of.

He stands to lose millions upon millions in salary and every single lucrative endorsement he had is also now long gone.

He has officially become the most renowned pariah in sports since Carolina Panthers receiver Rae Carruth was jailed for close to 20 years for conspiracy to murder his pregnant girlfriend seven years ago.

Although his girlfriend died in the attack there is one big difference between Carruth and Vick.

If you go to the NFL website and order a custom-made Panthers jersey with Carruth's name and number 89 on it, a note comes up telling you: 'Great choice!'

If you try to order Vick's number seven Falcon's jersey, the message reads: 'Your current entry cannot be processed. Some entries are prohibited due to guidelines for past and present player names.'

For most of his life, Vick played by a different set of rules. And now a different set of rules is ready to play him.

He was an absurdly talented athlete who was born into poverty in Newport News, Virginia. His father was 17 and his mother 16, with no visible means of support. Vick would show an aptitude for sports early in life and by the time he was nine years old, there were dreams of fame and fortune dancing through the minds of everybody around him. He knew he was special and he would not disappoint.

Following a stellar college career, he would become the number-one pick in the NFL draft and a few years later the Falcons would sign him to a US$130 million deal with a US$37 million signing bonus, making him the highest paid player in NFL history.

There was certainly no shortage of money, but there was a serious shortage of common sense.

Despite the enormity of Vick's success, he stayed close to the boys he grew up with, a few of them with extensive criminal records. Together they got their kicks out of dogfighting, a revelation that has shocked many.

But should it?

These guys grew up in a violent society. Drive-by shootings and drug dealers hanging on the corner were the norm. Some people rise above it, many don't. And Vick is reputedly not the only NFL player who likes dogfighting.

Again, no shock here.

Somehow the NFL expects their players to be beasts on the gridiron and choir boys off it, as if it easy to turn an inherently violent profession on and off when the situation suits it.

There are no excuses for Vick's actions, but there certainly are reasons.

Yes, he was inhumane. But so is the neighbourhood he grew up in. There are lots of poor people in the Philippines who love cockfighting as well. How humane is that?

I mean boxing is one thing. When a human being voluntarily enters the ring he or she usually has a pretty good idea of the consequences.

But a rooster does not. And, more importantly, a rooster has never been referred to as 'man's best friend'. Maybe man's best meal, but never his best friend.

Still, this savage sport is so prevalent in the Philippines that they run TV ads for the best food to breed champion cockfighters.

It's not right, not in the least. But it is what is. It's not like most people in places like the Philippines and Newport News can get their sports fix with an afternoon at the polo club.

Vick is squarely in the crosshairs of pious punditry now. The media lynching mob, whose numbers swell by the second, has set their sights. And none of them, none of them, has ever had a second chance.

None of them has ever needed a second chance either, so it's no surprise they never want to see Michael Vick on a football field again.

But after he does his jail time and after he serves his NFL suspension and whatever other punishment he faces, Vick deserves a chance to make his life right again, and if that means playing football and some team want him, then so be it.

It would be inhumane to deny him that.