The Family (Or most of them)

The Family (Or most of them)
The Family

August 20, 2007

The Lines that Blur and Grrrr

I don't know that it's worldwide news, but I bet there are few North Americans, at least, who haven't heard about this $13-million-a-year player and his transgressions in the past week.

The gentleman below, giving the 1-2 to the media or something in a file picture, is quarterback Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons, the highest-paid player in the National Football League.

In a nutshell, he agreed this week to plead guilty to charges that he operated and funded an illegal dogfighting scheme in the U.S., one in which scores of dogs were killed while fighting or killed afterwards because they failed to win.

People gambled on the outcome of these fights.

Vick is to be sentenced next week, I believe, and he's expected to receive between 12-18 months in prison, although he could face more charges. His pro football career is all but over. He's only 27.

If you need more information on the basics, just Google his name. I believe, though, that's all I need to say. There's a media circus going on about him right now and it's been almost impossible to avoid the cries of outrage.

And I believe outrage is the appropriate reaction to have. But I think a lot of history and context has been missed in all of this, and I think Vick has become a convenient lightning rod for anger that isn't all placed in the right direction.

OK, so you have the basics, if you didn't know them already. This whole thing reeks of the worst of humanity and it makes most peoples' blood boil...or it makes them cry and wonder how people can be so cruel.

There have been books written about dogfighting and the odd movie too.

But for the most part, this is one of those activities that bubble under society's surface, there but not really there, barely acknowledged, something we want to ignore.

My problem with the whole Vick thing is that everyone and their dog, pardon the expression, is screaming all this outrage about this now -- just because of who Michael Vick is and what he is, and that's the way politics and analysts and the media are.

If Joe Blow in Atlanta had been similarly raided and charged, this wouldn't be out there.

Dogfighting would be just as beyond our conscience and our morality as it had been until he was charged.

There's no context being provided, no deeper thought being given to what this is really all about.

Because right now it's all about the feeding frenzy by the justice departments, the police, the animal rights groups and the moralists coming out of the woodwork to feast on a rich, exposed celebrity who dun wrong.

As far as I can tell, dogfighting is a part of some element of American culture, the same as it and many other ugly things are a part of every culture despite their horrid, brutal, unacceptable and in many cases illegal status.

But they still exist, either because the politicians and law enforcement types haven't the resources to put a stop to them or because they know it would be impossible to do so anyway.

And in many cases those things exist for different reasons, usually economic but also based on backwards beliefs or prejudices, and they're usually allowed to exist (even though illegal) and even encouraged, in every culture, race, colour, you name it.

Do any of these things come to mind?

Ku Klux Klan



Drug smuggling

Bullfighting in Spain (this week they announced it would no longer be shown on TV in Spain because it was "too violent for children"; how can anyone condone THIS activity and consider it any different from dogfighting?)

Child porn

Sexual predators (released on bail continually, only to reoffend)

The baby seal hunt off Canada's Newfoundland coast (they club these infant animals to death for their fur, an activity not only supported by Canada but defended by Canada. How gruesome is THAT?)

Japan, Norway and other nations' killing of whales

These are only a few realities of different cultures that are either completely legal in some countries or are illegal but are not nearly as vigorously monitored or enforced by the law as they need to be or, in fact, in abstentia condoned by those governments.

And there are so many more that are part of the underbelly of every society. They exist. People do them, for whatever reasons, even though the general population would never accept them in a civil society if they had the choice.

But here we are, looking at part of the American underbelly, and this thing called dogfighting. And the reason we are is because a man named Michael Vick is involved, it's the only reason, as if it's all on him and we need to hate him.

Here are facts, people. Let's try to look beyond Vick to the issue of dogfighting itself. Let's tear ourselves, for a brief moment, away from the feeding frenzy. Vick should be a target, but not the only target.

The brief history of dogfighting is that it's believed to have started in ancient Rome as a form of entertainment. It became all the rage in England for 600 years -- reaching its apex in the 1600s -- but was outlawed in 1835 in the UK.

Like everything else, though, it migrated with the the U.S. and many other countries. One estimate now pegs the number of people involved in dogfighting in the U.S. alone at 40,000.

Dogfighting is perfectly legal and a popular "sport" in Afghanistan and many other places in the world. It was a popular pastime in Japan and is widespread and popular in several South American countries. It's illegal in Russia but widely practised.

Few places on the planet have not at one time, if not now, condoned it and supported it or done little to curb its growth and popularity.

In the American Deep South, particularly, it seems to flourish under the radar. Most states have outlawed it but some have made dogfighting or attending matches only a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

And my research leads me to wonder how often police and other enforcement agencies pay much attention to it and provide many resources to ensure it doesn't happen or that offenders are caught and punished.

At least, until a perpetrator of Michael Vick's stature shows up. Then they're all over it and it's time to show the world just how the justice system is getting everyone, from the top of the food chain down to the bottom.