Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The NFL, our girls and Michael Vick

My wife and I are avid football fans. She cheers for the Steelers and I root for the Broncos. Actually, she's been known to weep over regular season losses with playoff implications or anything short of the Lombardi in post season. She doesn't really celebrate the wins, she's just... relieved. It's as if there were something with far greater gravity than just a season record riding on the outcome -- like her paycheck. We both know and understand most of the game, yet seem to learn something new about it every season. I installed DirecTV in our first house solely for access to their NFL Sunday Ticket package so I could see EVERY Broncos game, not just the ones on Sunday or Monday nights. We've never been fans of any other teams, except when only one of us makes it to the playoffs. We're fans whether our team's 16-0 or 0-16. We're the kind of people the NFL should think of when they think of their fans.

We were actually given the opportunity to be at Ford Field in Detroit to see the Steelers beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. In 2001 we endured relentless verbal abuse from Ravens fans during the Broncos' wild card loss in Baltimore. For my wife's thirtieth birthday we got to see John Elway play for our first time at Three Rivers Stadium when the Broncos lost in the regular season, only to come back and beat Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game on the way to their first Super Bowl win. We were at the last Monday night game at Mile High Stadium. We've also seen games at Heinz Field and Invesco Field. We're some of the few people who remember September 10, 2001 because we watched Bronco wide receiver Ed McCaffrey haul in a catch that resulted in a hit that broke his leg on Monday Night Football. Ed's my all-time favorite Bronco. I didn't think I could feel sadder until the horrible morning that followed. We live for the Fall and hope we have something to cheer for in the Winter. Spring and Summer we resume our lives.

My wife and I have two dogs, Drambuie and Locutus. They're sisters we rescued over five-and-a-half years ago when they were about 10 weeks old. We think they may be Shepherd-Retriever mixes. They're the second-best decision I ever made after marrying my wife and before owning Hondas. Yes, I made the decision on the spot to take them. We always spoke of getting two so they would have each other when we weren't around and so they could be dogs together. The ordinance officers who rescued them offered to show them to my wife at her workplace. She burst into tears upon seeing them. I always wanted a dog as a child, but couldn't have one. My wife didn't know what to expect, but she was open to it and trusted my decision. We have been truly blessed every day since to have them in our lives.

They're smart. They know their commands: sit, stay, lie, come, heel, leave it, down (people), off (furniture), get busy (toilet), find Mommy/Daddy, show Mommy/Daddy. We're also worried they've learned how to spell: F-O-O-D, E-A-T and H-U-N-G-R-Y. They know when we're leaving for work as opposed to running errands. They know what puppies, kitties, bunnies and deer are. They're very well-behaved. Eight, nine even ten hours alone in the house together without accidents or vandalism. They're very affectionate. They give an endless supply of kisses. They sleep in our bed, but only if we're in it. They consider a blanket to be an unspoken invitation to curl up in a ball between the user's legs or for both of them to bookend you with one on either side. They're fun and funny. Somehow just getting up in the morning is a thrilling adventure. They startle themselves with the sound of their own farts. They're also tough. Locutus suffered through bladder stones and surgery without so much as a whimper. They have unique and distinct personalities. Locutus spontaneously spins and jumps before meals while Drambuie lies down to eat!

We favor neither and neither favors one of us. The dynamic is ideal. The only time they show a preference is if one of us lies down for a nap, that's where they are. My heart won't allow me to register complaints, but objectively, the only "faults" they have are shedding and occasional car sickness. They're dogs and not people and that's the level on which we've tried to communicate and train them. The level on which we love them is that of family and we know the same is true of them. To steal a line from Cesar Millan, they've taught us what it means to be a pack.

Dogs search for and rescue us amidst disasters. They spend their lives committed solely to assisting the blind and disabled. They help protect law enforcement personnel, subdue criminals and detect explosives. Dogs provide millions with companionship, loyalty and unconditional love. How many of us would provide all of the above for just a meal or two a day? Man's best friend? Sometimes man's only friend. It breaks my heart and fills me with rage to think of dogs such as these or mine being used as bait while muzzled, terrified and defenseless. Ironically, these poor creatures are savaged by fight dogs that are no less victims. After each has served its purpose, or failed to, they're dispatched with heinous cruelty. As much separates slaughter for food and torture for entertainment, in both substance and distance, as the earth is separated from the moon.

Michael Vick deserves a second chance, but not with the NFL -- ever. Michael Vick didn't make mistakes, he made choices -- chilling, sadistic, deeply disturbing and criminal choices. What constitutes a bad person? Someone is good or bad by what they do or don't, not by people saying they're good or bad. Someone is good or bad by the totality of their deeds and misdeeds, but if the scales are so close and you have to look that hard, isn't it obvious? Is a priest who spent a lifetime counseling troubled marriages; baptizing babies; comforting loved ones of the deceased; feeding the poor; housing the homeless and molesting children a good person? Good or bad, he's at least forfeited the right to be a priest. Is a pro football player who earned and was given position, fortune and fame; won many games; participated in philanthropy; electrocuted, drowned and stomped to death dogs a good person? Good or bad, he's at least forfeited the right to be a professional football player in the NFL.

Unfortunately, the NFL has had its share of criminals and even murderers. Barring illicit drug use, moving violations and other victimless crimes, I don't believe any convicted, violent offenders have been welcomed back into the fold. If I'm wrong, then we need to finally draw the line here. The NFL is not the place for redemption, unless the type of redemption we're talking about is Elway finally winning the Big One. By all appearances, Michael Vick was living The Dream and he CHOSE to treat his blessings, his friends and family, his teammates, the NFL and its fans, himself and sentient, intelligent, loving creatures with contempt and depravity.

If Michael Vick were truly contrite and felt the depth of his foul deeds, he would know and willingly accept that he cannot and shall not recover his prior standing. Instead, he's too busy trying to salvage what's left of his estate and monies by avoiding the liquidation of Chapter 7 bankruptcy and conniving with his agent to qualify for the much more forgiving Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It seems he's already declaring potential future earnings in court. He just doesn't seem to get it. Is his fate and reinstatement a foregone conclusion? Has he been given reason for his rosy outlook?

Bumper sticker: "Be the person your dog thinks you are." Michael Vick showed his dogs exactly who he was. Michael Vick showed us all who he is. Football fans deserve better than Michael Vick. The NFL, its teams and players deserve better than Michael Vick. My dogs deserve better than Michael Vick.

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My love and gratitude to my wife for her photographic and editing skills and to my endlessly photogenic girls.