As disgusted and horrified as I am about the worst of the crimes (the electrocution and drowning of the dogs) that Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick (photo at left, Reuters File Photo) has now pled to having committed, I'm also saddened by his having been involved with and even masterminded some of them. With his reported imminent plea deal, I cannot see how his career, even for the sometimes-lax NFL, is not over. (Were he somehow to have wriggled out of conviction, his team and the league might have allowed him to continue playing. He is one of the most exciting quarterbacks of all time, and the single-season rushing leader at his position.) On top of this, the Commonwealth of Virginia, if I read correctly, is still planning to bring charges against him that could result in a 40 year prison sentence.
He's probably asking himself over and over was it worth it, was losing everything and facing a jail sentence really worth the thrill of the entire scheme, the excitement of the fights and of getting away with it for so long, the bets won and lost, the grotesque cruelty to the animals, the camaraderie with friends and acquaintances who had no one's--neither their own or his--best interests in mind? Was it? How could it possibly be? I know gambling is now thoroughly integrated into our culture, and people don't think twice about dropping money they don't have on games of chance, but pitting dogs (or other animals, for human sport) against each other is still ethically more problematic than risking money on instant-win scratch cards, poker games or baccarat tables. I've read rationalizations of dogfighting, an ancient sport that I've never watched and don't care to (just like cockfighting). I find the punitive methods that are alleged in this case indefensible.
One of my first thoughts when I first heard the allegations against Vick was whether or not his teammates on the Atlanta Falcons, the ownership, or the league had any knowledge of his involvement in dogfighting. And is he the only one? I find it curious that for a league taht purports to be focused on its public image and on its talent, no one had a clue until the investigation of Vick's cousin on a drug case led to the discoveries on the Surry farm. I'm also curious to find out if the NFL, PETA and others who are fulminating against Vick are going to look at other players and see if they're involved in dogfighting, cockfighting, and, yes, I'm going to say it, non-subsistence hunting, which is a bloodsport, and racing, where, as Bernie reminded me, horses that lose are "put down," which is to say, less euphemistically, killed. Our society rationalizes the cruelty involved in non-subsistence hunting, but the kind of brutality that Dick Cheney, among others, engages in during closed hunts is just as unconscionable, as is the brutality enacted on animals in other sports. (Yes, I know, few people care as much about ducks or geese or bobolinks or even race horses as they do dogs, which are humans' close companions, but still--and what, as Byron pointed out, about greyhounds? They don't all get adopted and sheltered after their racing lives end. I would add that I know population-control hunting is also controversial, but also doesn't merit the sort of outrage that it probably could.) Something tells me that after Vick goes down there'll be much ado--though little focus on other forms of cruelty to animals or the broader issues of classism and speciesism--for a hot minute, and things will go back to the way they were.
As I type this, Hurricane Dean continues its march through the Gulf region, having slashed a terrible swath through Jamaica's capital, Kingston, with 2 dead there and 4 in Haiti. It was, however, less destructive to Jamaica than predicted, and the Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller declared a day of thanksgiving as a result. Every land mass in its path has been drenched. It's currently pounding the Yucatán Peninsula and its resorts, and though it's been downgraded to a Category 1 storm, meteorologists suggest it could again gain force once it moves into the open water. The greatest threat then would be to Mexico's extensive open water oil-drilling infrastructure. Anthony points out on his Monaga blog that the DR did not sustain too much damage from Hurricane Dean, though he does post a disturbing video of a Haitian teenager who tragically is killed by the wall of waves. (He also poses the question of whether this should be on YouTube, and by extension, his site.) Meanwhile, the tropical storm whose name I thought I'd hallucinated, Erin, has inundated parts of the Midwest! I saw last night that Des Plaines River, outside of Chicago, had overflowed its banks, and that there'd been flooding in a number of other states, including Minnesota, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
From Dante Micheaux, an upcoming reading of Soul Mountain-affiliated poets, in Old Lyme, Connecticut (Soul Mountain is a writers' retreat founded a few years ago by poet Marilyn Nelson):