The League

Michael Kun

Michael Kun

Co-author of The Football Uncyclopedia. He is also the author of six other books and is a practicing attorney.

Vick May Kill Dog Fighting


The world's a strange place, ain't it? Oh, I could give you a thousand examples off the top of my head, and I'm sure you could do the same. But here's one that comes to mind today: the back of Pedro Borbon's 1970 Topps baseball card.

Yes, I know we're supposed to be talking about the NFL here, but bear with me. As you may know, Pedro Borbon was a relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds and a few other teams back in the 1970s. He was known for being a bit different. In fact, in Joe Posnanski's excellent new book about the 1975 world champion Reds, The Machine, every time Borbon's name appears, the word "crazy" shows up somewhere in the same sentence. (Note to Joe's editor: you may want to pick up a thesaurus. Just saying.)

Now, on the back of most of the Topps 1970 baseball cards, in the upper right-hand corner, there was a cute little cartoon with an interesting tidbit about each player. For instance, "Joe likes to sing in the shower!" (Imagine a drawing of a fully dressed ballplayer singing into a showerhead.) Or, "Bobby's collects toy trucks!" Or, "Jim went to high school with Joey Heatherton!" (Never heard of Joey Heatherton? Do a google search, you won't regret it.)

So, what's on the back of Pedro Borbon's 1970 Topps baseball card? A drawing of a baseball player fighting a rooster, both wearing boxing gloves, with the caption, "Pedro's hobby is cock fighting!"

I am NOT making this up. I don't know for a fact that Pedro's "hobby" was cock fighting, but I do know for a fact that his baseball card said it was. The cartoon rooster and the exclamation point, certainly suggest that rather than being a cause for alarm, this was simply an amusing little fact about Pedro.

Although I was only 7 years old at the time, I don't recall there being any uproar about the card or about Pedro's cock fighting, nor have I heard anything since. You see, back in 1970, if an athlete was involved in cock fighting, not only did it bother few people, but it was (apparently) a source of amusement. In fact, I suspect that my buddies and I were amused by it, but perhaps because the drawing misled us -- we probably thought that Pedro actually fought the roosters himself.

Now, 39 years later, that baseball card and the manner in which Pedro's "hobby" was presented are virtually unimaginable. And if it were revealed that a ballplayer's "hobby" was cock fighting, well, let's just say he'd have a lot of questions to answer and a lot of angry people to answer to. And rightfully so.

Now, if you think you know where I'm going with this, you're wrong. I'm not going to say that Michael Vick should be forgiven for being involved in dogfighting because he was simply born at the wrong time. And I'm not going to say that anyone would have found dogfighting amusing back in 1970, or that Topps would have referenced it on the back of Michael Vick's football card. No, what I'm saying is that we as a society are constantly evolving, sometimes for the worse, often for the better.

Things that were forbidden just a generation or two now just seem so basic that it's difficult to explain to our children. Just try to sit down and explain to a child why our grandparents' generation had issues with interracial marriage or integrated schools.

Equally, things that were permitted just a generation or two ago now seem so inappropriate or barbaric that they are equally difficult to explain to children. Pedro Borbon's "hobby," for instance, or lobotomies. I would have thought that dog fighting was a thing of the past, until I heard about Michael Vick (and, oddly, until it appeared in the children's movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Seriously).

Apparently not, but do you know what? Michael Vick's situation has brought dog fighting to the forefront, and it is Michael Vick's situation that may help bring an end to dog fighting. When they talk about dog fighting in 50 years, they will talk about this as being a critical event in bringing it to an end. Had it been just some unknown jerk from some little town in the middle of nowhere, we never would have heard about it -- and we wouldn't be talking about it now. But we are talking about it now. And some good is going to come of this.

What does that mean for Michael Vick? Barring some unusual or historic development, this is what Michael Vick will be known for the rest of his life. Whether he says another word about it or not, his face will be the face for this issue, and his name will be the name attached to it.

I have no interest in getting into a debate about whether he should be allowed to play in the NFL other than to say that if we do not have faith in our justice system, and if we do not believe that someone has paid his debt to society once he is released from prison, we need to have a larger conversation.

But he's back in the NFL, and you can boo him, or you can cheer him, or you can ignore him. It's your choice. And Nike, if you want to enter into a business relationship with Michael Vick, that's your choice, too. It's your business, and you are making a business decision, the soundness of which will be judged by public reaction.

Some people will criticize you for entering into a relationship with a criminal. Some people will congratulate you for being forgiving. Some people will stop buying your products. Some people will run out to buy them. And some people won't care. Me? I won't care.

It has nothing to do with whether I have forgiven Michael Vick or not. (Or whether I have a right to think that Michael Vick needs my forgiveness. I certainly haven't asked him to forgive me for all of my many transgressions.) It has nothing to do with whether I condone dog fighting. (Obviously, I don't.) And it has nothing to do with whether I like the Eagles (they're not my team) or Michael Vick as a ballplayer (afraid not).

No, I won't care whether Nike enters into a relationship with Michael Vick because I haven't bought any athletic apparel in 10 years, and have no plans to do so for the next 10. Sorry, but my old sweatpants and sneakers are holding up just fine. (Yes, I called them "sneakers.")

A lot of people will be speaking with their wallets. Just not me.

By Michael Kun  |  October 2, 2009; 12:03 AM ET  | Category:  Michael Vick , Philadelphia Eagles Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Time Will Heal | Next: Vick Is Still Radioactive


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I think he can reach the kids and that in itself is a great start to end dog fighting.
Children are impressionable. I don't condone what he did but he is now speaking out against it. Maybe he can now make a difference. We are all talking about it and that in itself is a huge step to ending this gross practice. I wish more athletes would come out because that is who the children listen to.

Posted by: ziggy18v | October 1, 2009 8:02 PM

So far Vick has never even talked about his cruelty to the dogs, (killing them by hanging, drowning, electocuting) which is part of the dog fighting 'culling' tradition. Nor is he even talking about dog fighting in his 'speeches'. All Vick does is talk about his 'pointless' hobby (it wasn't pointless to the dogs that fought to death) and that poor Ookie was a victim of 'peer' pressure, and 'not a leader'. ( His co-killers said Vick insisted on killing the dogs even when they wanted to give them away, so he was a leader of THAT crime which he has never been punished for - 8 counts of felony animal cruelty.) I'm very, very glad Vick got caught, and the media finally exposed this evil criminal enterprise, but I will NEVER forget what Vick did to those poor dogs that lost fights. You are very right that Vick's name will always be synonomous with dog fighting. Since pet owners are a billion dollar industry in America, and spend quite a bit more than Vick supporters, I hope Nike is smart and doesn't set Vick up to be some kind of media idol with a contract.

Posted by: Georgia6 | October 1, 2009 9:52 PM

Michael Vick has not paid his debt to society, he has simply been released from prison. He is under court oversight and can be returned to prison if he fails to live up to the terms of the release. He has just entered into a new phase of his sentence.

Posted by: MeanKate | October 2, 2009 12:12 PM

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