January 20, 2009 marks a big day. Not because it's the inauguration of President Obama. Rather, it is likely the day that Michael Vick will walk out of prison in Leavenworth and into a halfway house to serve the remainder of his sentence for dog-fighting and other charges. He should be eligible for release in July, just in time for training camp.
I am glad that this day has come. Vick deserves a second chance. At life. And at a career in the NFL.
Not many people agree. Petitions and protesters line the internet and the streets with loud voices demanding more punishment and no reinstatement to the NFL for Michael Vick.
We like forgiveness when we need it or ask for it. But most of us are not too good at giving it to others. In other words, we are generous with forgiveness when it serves us but stingy when it helps others.
And that is wrong.
Forgiveness is a virtue. It is the centerpiece of my faith. All of us are imperfect. Each of us makes mistakes, hurts other people in various kinds of ways, and fails often to live up to our highest and best selves. Very simply, we are human. But we can learn from our mistakes. We have the capacity to grow and improve in virtue and in life. That is true because we are human. To grow and improve, we need second chances.
Michael Vick has apologized for his actions. He has publicly (and surely privately too) acknowledged that his actions were morally reprehensible. He has been financially ruined. His name has been permanently tarnished. And he has served his time. It is time to move on.
It is also time to give him a second chance. He has already been treated with severity. Until 2007, dogfighting was a felony in most states but a misdemeanor under federal law. A misdemeanor. Usually punished with probation and a fine. A misdemeanor rarely prosecuted by the feds.
All that changed in 2007.
In 2007, the feds made dogfighting a felony and instituted draconian penalties. Prison terms of 3 years, fines of $250,000. And the penalties are assessed PER dog. As a result of intense lobbying by animal rights groups. We're talking about a sea change in approach toward dog-fighting.
The new laws and punishments took effect about a month before Vick was arrested and charged. Really bad timing for Vick. Really good timing for federal officials looking to crack down on dogfighting in a high-profile way.