The Glass House Guillotine of Michael Vick

Samuel Prince


The Glass House Guillotine of Michael Vick

Whether they like it or not, the NFL is an ambassador of social justice. Some issues they embrace and monetize, like Breast Cancer Awareness. Others, like drug use and criminal activity are a stain upon the shield. Seven years prior to last season’s domestic abuse exploits of Ray Rice, the nation was engrossed with yet another stain on the shield of the NFL.

In April 2007 allegations arose of Michael Vick’s involvement in a dog fighting ring. Vick, an electrifying athlete out of Virginia Technical revolutionized the quarterback position. After six years in the NFL, Vick found himself supplanted between a rock and a hard place.

Animal abuse is taboo in American culture. Domesticated animals, though they do not possess the same level of consciousness as a child, are treated like children by their owners across the country. Hence, after allegations arose of abuse, animal lovers, sports fans, concerned citizens and the like were vehemently disgusted. Vick found himself in America’s crosshairs.

Eventually pleading guilty, the remorseful Vick was sentenced to jail time. In a glimmer of hope, America in the aggregate stood against animal abuse. Everywhere you were, from the barber shop to the corporate war room, dialogues occurred about Michael Vick. The conversation had begun, and the average American’s knowledge of animal abuse increased. People finally cared, but was this simply a fad?

Statistics on animal abuse criminal charges are difficult to find. Most cases are never reported. In the same year that Michael Vick was convicted of felony animal abuse, the state of Connecticut only convicted two people of felony charges. Closer to home, in 2012 and 2013, Rochester, New York, courts convicted a total of three people for felony animal abuse. New York State felony animal abuse law states:

  1. A person is guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals when, with no justifiable purpose, he or she intentionally kills or intentionally causes serious physical injury to a companion animal with aggravated cruelty. For purposes of this section, “aggravated cruelty” shall mean conduct which: (i) is intended to cause extreme physical pain; or (ii) is done or carried out in an especially depraved or sadistic manner.

There are some key things that need defining here. First, what is a justifiable purpose to be cruel to an animal? Second, what is considered a companion animal, and why is it okay to be cruel to animals that do not fall under this description? The second part of this felony law continues:

  1. Nothing contained in this section shall be construed to prohibit or interfere in any way with anyone lawfully engaged in hunting, trapping, or fishing, as provided in article eleven of the environmental conservation law, the dispatch of rabid or diseased animals, as provided in article twenty-one of the public health law, or the dispatch of animals posing a threat to human safety or other animals, where such action is otherwise legally authorized, or any properly conducted scientific tests, experiments, or investigations involving the use of living animals, performed or conducted in laboratories or institutions approved for such purposes by the commissioner of health pursuant to section three hundred fifty-three of this article.

The second part of the law is even more convoluted. First, companion animal is never defined. While what constitutes a companion animal should be common sense, I implore you to remember that when discussing anything pertaining to law, make no assumptions. Is the turtle you own a companion animal? Is the lion at the circus a companion animal? Or, is only your dog or cat a companion animal? Note, in all three of these cases an animal accompanies a human being.

Secondly, here they define the “justifiable purposes” to be cruel to an animal. These include: legal hunting, scientific experiments and investigations. Specifically, the “dispatch of animals posing a threat to humans or other animals.” Again, we need defining. “Humans” is the clearest term here. What constitutes as posing a threat? Is that a growl, snarl, or bite? Secondly, what animals are they dispatching of; all animals or companion animals? Lastly, to the undefined animals posing a threat to other animals, are these other animals all animals or only companion animals?

Are you confused yet? With laws that have such painstakingly obvious loopholes, enforcement is sub-par at best. This is a part of the reason we see so few convictions. So, was Michael Vick’s circus of a trial true change, or simply a fad? You decide.

The Bible, chosen by many as their guidebook of life, speaks to God giving man dominion over animals. Certainly, humans do have dominion over animals. In the documentary Earthlings, Jaoquin Phoenix narrates that humans dominate animals in five distinct ways:  as pets, food, entertainment, clothing, and scientific research.

There’s a scripture found in the King James translation, Genesis 1:26:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

While human domination has been divinely delegated, its carte blanche has come at a price. Pain and devastation lay in its wake. Whether it is Michael Vick dog fighting, the NFL using hundreds of cowhides per year to make new footballs, or the massacre of dolphins off the Japanese coastline, the animal experience is the same. Pain. Like God, we have bent all of creation to our unyielding will.

The Atomic Age is another representation of humans bending creation. Its beginning hallmarked by America’s dropping of the nuclear atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, the atomic power industry has been inundated with negative opinion. Much atomic progress has been staunched as a result; however, France forging ahead opted for an alternative use of atomic power. Over 70 percent of their energy comes from nuclear as oppose to fossil sources. If other countries were to adopt this approach, the world’s carbon footprint would be significantly reduced.

Is the same not possible with animals? Can we also reduce their pain and suffering with technology? With today’s technology, why can’t we use synthetics as oppose to cowhide on our footballs? Can we use robots to compete, instead of breaking animals to our will, making them jostle in contests for our amusement? Instead of using technology to kill animals “peacefully”, can we use it to protect them and put an end to poaching worldwide? For a people that pride themselves on progress, we interestingly still choose to indulge in barbarism. Snuggly, we squeezed Michael Vick’s neck into the grooves of Robespierre’s guillotine. Full of bloodlust and possessed by anger, we placed his head on a stake proclaiming, “Don’t hurt our animals!” Throwing stones in a glass house, we passed judgement without first looking at ourselves.

I leave you with a quote from Jeremy Bentham.

“The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but “Can they suffer?”

Link to Earthlings Documentary:  Earthlings


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