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Quick Inside Slant: Week 3

Impressions of the 2015 NFL Season as perceived by a Creative Writing graduate student, part-time amateur stand-up comedian and collegiate intramural flag football legend.

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By: Dustin Fisher

There are many terms that are said way too flippantly, without really portraying the gravity they should. Terms that don’t put a picture in your mind because they are uttered too often or because we just don’t know enough. Terms like chronic depression. Domestic abuse.

Dog fighting.

Ben Roethlisberger suffered a knee injury in Pittsburgh’s win over the Rams, jettisoning Michael Vick into the spotlight once again. As an Eagles fan, I had to navigate these waters before – trying to figure out how – or if – to root for a person who did something so reprehensible. And I’m still not sure how I feel.

Nobody can possibly defend what Michael Vick did but are we to believe it is impossible for people to change?

Nobody can possibly defend what Michael Vick did but are we to believe it is impossible for people to change?

There are some people who will never forgive him for what he did and I understand that. A friend of a friend told me that as a dog lover, he refuses to root for his Steelers this year just because Vick is on their roster. And there’s no argument against that for someone who feels that strongly about something. That said, Vick he did his time in jail and missed two years of football as a result.

There are many people who don’t believe he deserves to play in the NFL for what he did. Why not? This is his job and should he not be allowed to work? Last year on Conan, Bill Burr was asked if he thought the NFL had a domestic abuse problem, to which he replied “Compared to who? Plumbers?” His point is that there are lots of people with lower profile jobs who are also guilty of the things we demonize in the NFL and more visible professions. What if you found out the cable guy went to prison for a similar crime? Would you stop watching TV? If we aren’t allowing Vick to have a job after the court system declared he had served his penance, what is the point of prison? Why not just put all convicted felons on an island and forget about them?

It helped that when Vick reentered the league, he didn’t seem to step out of line at all. He was never accidentally at a venue where there were animals present, he never talked back to any of his protesters, and he became an advocate for animal rights. One SPCA member said that he accidentally became the best thing for dog fighting awareness there has ever been. It’s not something I’m sure Vick hangs his hat on, but it helped. It also helped that he went on to have the best statistical season of any quarterback in NFL history.

I believe people can change. And every indication pointed to the fact that he had. He didn’t break down and cry like I wanted him to, but not everybody is emotional. Eighteen months is a long time to sit in prison to think about stuff. And I know I cringe at some of the decisions a younger Dustin made once upon a time in my previous life. So why shouldn’t Vick be allowed back in the league?

Maybe because he’s a sociopath. Or certainly at the least, incapable of empathy. All of that talk about reform I had spouted was before I really had that picture. The picture of what it was that Vick had done. When I think of dog fighting, I think of the scene in The Wire where Wee-Bay brings his dog in to fight, his dog gets beat and hurt badly during the fight, and he has to shoot it. He cries. I was naïve. For however much David Simon taught me about the Baltimore drug trade, he really did me a disservice here. For a picture of just what happens in real dog fighting rings – or at least the one Michael Vick was running – read below.

I spoke with a friend of mine who is an Animal Advocate and SPCA Volunteer. Tom believes that the 18 months ultimately given to Vick was way too little time served, but he doesn’t blame the NFL for allowing him employment. He also doesn’t believe that Vick sees what he did as morally wrong, but now he doesn’t do those things because of the potential consequences. Much like how my three-year-old daughter doesn’t understand that it’s morally wrong to hit her friends in the head with sticks because they’re pretending to be asleep, but she understands that if she does, it means we leave the playground and Daddy is upset with her.

Is Vick just a product of his environment? Perhaps. And hey, here’s some outside the bun thinking – Who says everyone has to think things are morally wrong anyway? The way I see it, motivation is motivation. Will Mabel ever learn not to hit her friends (or anyone really) in the head with sticks because it’s morally wrong? Probably. But for now, I’m happy that she seems to have stopped hitting people with sticks, regardless of the reason. I know I’ve stopped myself from doing things before not because I believed they were morally wrong, but because of the consequences. Who hasn’t? Maybe Vick will never learn that it’s morally wrong to do what he did, but he’s not doing it anymore. Is that enough?

The following is an excerpt from The Lost Dogs and it’s just the beginning of what I read. A more detailed version can be found on Tom’s blog. But the following is disturbing enough. Please don’t read this if you’re not in a place to be able to handle the torture of animals.

One of the men comes towards the dogs. He grabs the one that had been in the rectangle with the little red dog and fastens the old nylon leash around her neck. He picks her up and carries her over to two trees that stand next to the two-story shed. The other man ties the leash to a two-by-four that has been nailed between the trees. Once the leash is secure, the first man boosts the dog a little further up and lets go.

For a moment, the dog lifts upward, her back arching and her legs paddling the air. Her head spins as she looks for the ground. Then her upward momentum peters out and she begins downward. Forty pounds of muscle and bone accelerate toward the earth. The rope pulls. The dog’s head jolts to the side and with a single yelp she is dead.

That is what you should now picture when you hear the term “dog fighting.” And that man is Michael Vick, starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Personally, I still believe that people can change because I feel I have to. I’m rooting for reform. And I’ll try hard not to picture that excerpt above when watching their game against the Ravens tonight. And for my buddy’s buddy, the guy who won’t root for them because of Vick, I don’t blame you. I’m sure a lot of animal rights activist Steelers fans are in that boat, waiting for Big Ben to get back so they can watch their team with a clear conscious again, knowing that their quarterback was not accused of dog fighting, but just of measly sexual assault.

Oh, and in case you need a better picture of sexual assault…

He followed the alleged victim into the bathroom and his penis was already out of his pants when he arrived. She continued to say she didn’t want to have sex but he kept saying “No, it’s OK.” He had two bodyguards who would not allow the alleged victim’s friends to get to her. A witness said that when her friend resurfaced, she was crying and “she told us he raped her.”

This is pieced together from Milledgeville, Georgia police reports. That man is the injured quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. So you’re all good with this guy leading your team? You think he doesn’t do this anymore because he believes it to be morally wrong? Or maybe – probably – he’s afraid he’ll get caught again. And it pains me that I have to read and type the term alleged victim because he settled out of court for a ton of money so this is an unofficial sexual assault – whatever that means.

The NFL and the world are full of some terrible people doing terrible things. It sucks. But we’re still going to watch the game. Because football. And like my buddy Tom said, “If I boycotted all things lacking a decent moral foundation, then I’d be in the woods with Henry David Thoreau.”

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Dustin Fisher is a writer, comedian, storyteller, and stay-at-home dad. Follow along with his dad blog at http://daddyneedsanap.com/ or buy his first book, Daddy Issues.

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Dustin Fisher is an amateur standup comedian, storyteller, freelance writer, and stay-at-home dad, all of which are just better ways of saying “unemployed.” He worked in the area of collegiate recreation for the previous 14 years at UMBC, Miami University and the University of Baltimore. There, he became somewhat of a folk legend on the flag football field and actually got paid to play fantasy football. Dustin is currently in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore seeking a Masters degree in Creative Writing. He has made contributions to various publications including The Good Men Project and the Baltimore Fishbowl. For more about Dustin, check out his stay-at-home dad website, Daddy Needs a Nap. Dustin lives with his wife and daughter in New Carrollton, MD in a house surrounded by too many trees to get the Dish Network.

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