Vick vows to reform, Blank not so much

[update follows] Michael Vick has experienced the fastest religious enlightenment after a felony conviction I can recall, and a remarkable change in taste, having realized that dogfighting is a terrible thing. Uh huh; this would be hard to see if you only went to dogfights, but now…

Arthur Blank, the Falcons’ owner, is keeping his options open; he’ll try to get back as much of Vick’s signing bonus money as hasn’t been spent at clubs and such, but doesn’t preclude putting Vick on the field after he’s sprung. This is really remarkable. Let’s recall that Michael Vick was a very rich young man, rich enough that he could do anything in the world he wanted to for fun. Buy a big boat and sail around in it? Nope. Drive fast cars? Nope. Learn to play the piano? Nope. No-one drug him to the dog ring; what he wanted to do for fun was watch dogs tear skin and body parts off each other, systematically damage the qualities that make dogs good pals for humans and enhance their worst latent potential, personally kill the ones who didn’t fight hard enough, and to hang out with a bunch of drunken savages who also found the spectacle diverting.

The only new information about dogfighting Vick has picked up is that it can ruin your career and put you in the slammer. This is good reason not to do it, as he’s figured out too late, but I don’t see how it makes him not like it any more. If I discovered someone I knew liked to spend time this way, I wouldn’t spend another minute with him, because I think it’s a profound character flaw: if you think it’s fun to watch animals torture each other you’re just a sick f**ck, whether you deny yourself out of fear of punishment or not. Vick may become less of a jerk in time, but not, I believe, quite this fast and even after a year or so in jail, I’m not prepared to take another round of flack-scripted bleating about his regret as evidence of new character. Righteous voices commonly proclaim that pedophiles are irredeemable and unreformable; have we heard from them about dogfight fans, and this one in particular?

My purpose here is not to pile on Vick, actually, but to view Blank with particular disgust. He is a businessman who seems to think that Atlanta fans will not be any the less likely to buy tickets just because every time they see his quarterback go long, or his picture in the paper, they have to think about the savagery that got his rocks off. Can he be right? If Blank puts him on the field again, and I were an Atlanta fan, I would be so insulted at the suggestion that I could enjoy a football game with visions of those bloody dogs recalled for me on every play, that I’d never buy another ticket. “Paid a debt to society” in prison and even “learned not to act out illegal desires that most people find repulsive” is anyway not at all the same as “become a decent person”. Leaving him to some other employment isn’t like blacklisting an actor for political views, it’s a matter of thinking the associations he will always call up are bad for business, and should be, and that being a celebrity sports figure is a job with some intrinsic minimal character requirements. But maybe they aren’t, and it isn’t.

UPDATE: A reader informs me that

…if Blank were to cut Vick from the team now

(or even announce his intent to do so), he would be apparently unable to

recoup the signing bonus. And the biggest benefit for the team in terms of

the salary cap is if they wait to cut Vick until next June. I don’t know

why this is, but it has to do with the collective bargaining agreement, and

they are always mentioning it on ESPN. I’d be very surprised if Blank has

any intention of letting Vick come back to the Falcons, but he’s not allowed

to say so.

If this is true, Blank is not the wretch I read him for, but a guy in a very bad situation, where doing the right thing now will cost his company almost $30m and benefit Vick. This is a lot of jack, and not really his even if he owns the team. I suspend judgment until next summer, and I hope the players’ and owners’ lawyers get their contract fixed next chance they get.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.