All things considered, the last couple of weeks have not been great for pro sports. There is another doping scandal in the Tour de France, an NBA ref who bet on games he was officiating, a cherished home run record being approached by a guy who is mostly hated, and now even more thuggery in the NFL.
Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Michael Vick has been indicted for various nasty activities involving dogfighting. The Feds, who get convictions 95% of time in Vick’s district delivered an 18-page indictment with 84 items. Here are some key points:
– Vick buys the headquarters house (near Smithfield, VA) on June 29, 2001 for $34,000
– Vick starts buying pit bulls soon after; the Feds can identify several of the vendors (in North Carolina, New York, and Virginia)
– In September, 2001 Vick purchases more pit bulls
– Early 2002 he adds more dogs
– Early 2002 Vick starts Bad Newz Kennels, and orders apparel promoting this business
– Between 2002 and 2005 Vick constructs a fence to shield the rear portion of the house from public view; builds multiple sheds that house training equipment commonly used by dogfighters, builds kennels, and buries car axles with chains to restrain the dogs
– Vick “rolls” some of the pit bulls in Virginia Beach. (“Roll” means placing the dog in a short fight to see how it performs.)
– In 2002, Vick hosts a fight for his dog Zebro against a dog named Maniac that carries a $2,000 purse. Zebro loses.
– Late 2002, Vick’s dog Chico wins a $2,000 fight at his house against a dog from Alabama
– Spring 2003, Vick travels with his dog Jane to North Carolina for a $3,000 fight and wins
– Late 2003, Vick takes Jane to New Jersey to fight for $10,000; Jane wins.
– Spring 2003, Vick travels to South Carolina with his dog Big Boy and wins a $2,000 fight
– March 2003, Vick hosts $26,000 fight with a female pit bull and loses
– March 2003, at same fight, Vick has his male dog fight in a $20,000 fight and his dog loses
– Fall 2003, Vick takes a dog named Magic to South Carolina for a $6,000 fight; Magic wins
– Late 2003, Vick returns to South Carolina with Big Boy and wins a $7,200 fight
– Spring 2004, Vick fights Big Boy at his home against a pit bull from New Jersey and wins $3,000
Fast forward to Spring 2007, at the very time he is meeting with the NFL brass, claiming no involvement…
– Vick is still rolling dogs at the house, and is killing dogs that do not perform well by hanging, drowning and body slamming, and electrocution.
According to Humane Society experts, killing methods other than shooting the dogs are beyond the pale even within the dogfighting culture.
This laundry list of Vick’s activities arrived in the wake of flipping off the fans, using the alias “Ron Mexico” to seek treatment for herpes while infecting hapless—if very stupid— partners, and an airport security scuffle. Not surprisingly, public reaction has been overwhelmingly negative, and the outcry against Vick dwarfs previous public reaction to incidents where NFL players harmed, or even killed humans.
Perhaps that’s because many fans regard the animals as helpless victims, compared to people who should have known better than to hang out with these thugs. In a sense, Vick too is a victim, being a product of a system that cherishes athletic excellence, and no doubt identified it in him at a very young age—insulating him from the consequences of his actions from the age of 10 onward.
As a former avid sports fan, I will try to explain the overarching interest in these athletic contests—absolutely pointless but for the money generated—and that still begs the question.
Dating from the dawn of civilization, physical prowess quickly diminished in importance to mental acuity, yet some remnant of our appreciation for the purely physical persists. The trouble is that most of us can only approach this remnant via a gaming context, and even then, the thrill must be vicarious.
Thus, sports teams are created, based on geography, and we root for “our” team, although the team is not ours in any rational sense. While opponents may not fight to the death, the most skilled competitors are highly prized, and are compensated extravagantly. Indeed, their compensation can only be justified—at best weakly—by measuring their statistics, instead of how much profit they can actually earn for their team, or how much they can improve their team’s performance.
In fact, there is typically little correlation, across sports leagues, between a team’s total payroll and league standing. Any team sport also requires chemistry between players, and that simply cannot be bought.
Evidently, neither can decent human behavior.