this out of the way early: I don't support the fighting of dogs.
I am not sitting here in a Michael Vick jersey snacking on Labrador
fajitas thinking that his 12 month plea bargain is the greatest
injustice since Sacco and Vanzetti. Please don't send me emails
saying that I hate dogs.
Please don't write that I am a "supporter" of Michael Vick, whatever
the hell that means. I don't love dogs. I don't hate dogs. I will
say I'm not a vegetarian. I love a good haggis. I gargle with
gravy. I think short ribs are a "side." None of that means I hate
dogs or think Vick is some kind of political prisoner. Like many,
I eat meat, abhor dog fighting, and am comfortable with that hypocrisy.
But all that
said - now that we have gorged on disclaimers - I find the reaction
to this entire dog fighting case to be a frightening example of
the worst kind of group-think: an unreflective mob-mentality run
I will not dwell on the various Internet postings that call for
Vick to be lynched, beaten, or put in a phone booth with pit bulls.
In less than five seconds of mouse-work, you too can buy a "Save
a Pit Bull & Neuter Vick" T-shirt. They are easy enough to
find since the Internet has always proven comfortable quarters
for enterprising bottom feeding parasites.
I will also
not harp on the sundry sports columnists using this opportunity
to cluck about black athletes, "hip hop gangsta" culture, and
what happens when you hold onto your "boyz." I think they speak
for themselves. They are as predictable as a setting sun, their
arguments and prose so mundane one wonders if they have a computer
program where they enter key words like "gangsta", "hip hop",
and "boyz" and just watch as the graphs spew themselves.
And I certainly
do not wish to draw any unnecessary attention to Senator Robert
Byrd of West Virginia and the bizarre Senate floor speech in which
he condemned Michael Vick to Hades, saying, "I am confident that
the hottest places in Hell are reserved for the souls of sick
and brutal people who hold God's creatures in such brutal and
cruel contempt!" I am also way too classy to make hay out of the
fact that Byrd's "youthful indiscretion" was joining the Ku Klux
Klan, a group that used dogs on black people the same way people
want dogs used on Mr. Vick.
simply no need to take aim at these obvious targets when our best
sports columnists - people to treasure in these fetid waters -
decide to ride the wave.
Such a writer
is Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. On Thursday she wrote,
"If an animal didn't perform well enough, if it wasn't champion
enough, if it was in Vick's judgment flawed, he strangled it,
drowned it, electrocuted it or beat it to death on the ground.
Vick and his pals deliberately enslaved and tormented weaker creatures,
and killed those they considered inferior. The dogs had faces
and voices that would have eloquently expressed their agony, and
Vick hurt them anyway, repeatedly. The crimes may have been committed
against canines, but at issue is basic humanity. Commit those
crimes against people, and the words we'd use for it are fascism,
and genocide. Don't kid yourself: The people who are so angry
at Vick are angry for all the right reasons."
can we humanize dogs
with such piety as Texas puts
Kenneth Foster to death next week -
puts him down like a dog
for a murder all sides agree
he didn't commit? How can we
imbue dogs with "language"
when the actual words of those
calling for help in HIV ravaged Africa
are being ignored by our government?
How can we cheer violent sports,
ignoring - or even celebrating -
the mutilation of people's faces and
voices, and weep over the pit bulls?
If it had
run in the Onion, I wouldn't have blinked. But this is the Washington
Post, an esteemed paper of record. And this is Sally Jenkins.
First, the contention, repeated everywhere as if fact, that Vick
"strangled, drowned, electrocuted or beat dogs to death" was in
the indictment, not the guilty plea.
In other words, it remains an unproven accusation. If anything,
Vick pleaded guilty because all of his friends pled deals when
it became clear that the federal government wanted - as they always
do - to land the big celebrity catch. The same justice department,
that says of Barry Bonds, "He's our Al Capone," wanted Vick. That's
the headline. That's what keeps their budgets fat.
In such an
atmosphere, taking a plea clearly seemed to Vick and his team
like the best of bad options.
As RL White,
head of the Atlanta NAACP said, "At this point, you're not looking
at guilt or innocence. You're thinking, 'What I better do is cut
my losses and take a plea'."
said, the part of Jenkins' piece - and almost all the writing
on this subject - is the way dogs have been so thoroughly anthropomorphized.
Faces? Language? Enslavement? FASCISM? Do we really need to check-off
the actual crimes of fascism from the last century? Is Michael
Vick really the Eichmann of the kennels? Is Jenkins' prose more
insulting to Vick or the people who actually had relatives die
at the hands of Hitler and company? Does this discourse really
make us smarter, or just more enraged?
of the Nation has written that it says something positive about
humanity that people are in an uproar about dogs and against the
"poisoned narcissists" who make up the athletic community. I think
it is the opposite. The humanization of the dog is the painfully
ironic mirror image of the dehumanization of the rest of us. Just
look at the world with semi-open eyes: How can we rally for the
pit bull when one million Iraqis are dead and the US media barely
How can we humanize dogs with such piety as Texas puts Kenneth
Foster to death next week - puts him down like a dog for a murder
all sides agree he didn't commit? How can we imbue dogs with "language"
when the actual words of those calling for help in HIV ravaged
Africa are being ignored by our government? How can we cheer violent
sports, ignoring - or even celebrating - the mutilation of people's
faces and voices, and weep over the pit bulls?
Tribune columnist Rick Morrisey wrote, "Abuse your dog, and people
howl. Smack around your girlfriend or face charges of sexually
assaulting a woman and people shake their heads and roll their
is the exception in this point. Preemptive strikes are abounding
against looking at some broader social context. Jemele Hill of
ESPN wrote, "You can say Vick was persecuted unfairly by the white
media, say we should be more concerned with the war in Iraq than
an illegal dogfighting ring or say his downfall wouldn't be a
24-hour news event if he were the highest-paid white quarterback.
But it's impossible to stand on moral high ground while trying
to defend something so low."
one have anything to do with the other? Why does pointing out
that there is a war going on - and that lots more people are suffering
than dogs - mean that you are by definition defending a pit bull
Maybe a better
question is, "Why are we surprised people get off on pit bull
fights when there is a war going on?"
I will surely get - and have always gotten - for writing this
is that "dogs are innocent." Once again this is a logic that transcends
poor people that become boxers, women who get raped, Iraqis picking
up unexploded cluster bombs, are "guilty?" Have exercised "free
will?" That's not logic. That's the doctrine of original sin.
I don't know what led Michael Vick down the road to Bad Newz Kennels.
I also don't pretend to know. But I do know that the world is
in rather lousy shape and outrage is better spent elsewhere.
Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain,
Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket Books, 2007). He is
also the author of "The Muhammad Ali Handbook" (MQ Publications)
and has also gotten himself a blog site, www.myspace.com/edgeofsports,
which he invites you to visit. His book, "What's My Name Fool?
Sports and Resistance in the United States," is also in stores.
You can receive his column, Edge of Sports, every week by emailing
says: "I love writing this column but can only
continue with this work if people buy the books. We have a lot
of mouths to feeds in this house (and about three of them are
you believe in progressive, iconoclastic sports writing please
pick up a copy of Welcome To The Terrordome. If you believe in
being part of a project to "tear down the Terrordome,"
pick up five and give them to the apolitical sports fans in your
life. The only way ideas like this spread are from the bottom
up. Any questions, feel free to hit me back at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other articles by Dave Zirin:
When Domes Attack
The Meaning Of The Sports Spectacle
Clown Prince Of Bizarro World
No Scapegoats: The Other Side Of Hip-Hop
(co-written with Jeff Chang)
The Greatest Anti-War Protestor
Pimping Mike Tyson
Pat Tillman's Brother Breaks His Silence
The Passing Of Peter Norman
When Fists Are Frozen
Why Today I Wear My Zidane Jersey
Hey Guys, It's Not A War
Using Soccer To Kick Iran
Why Did Pat Tillman Die?
Why Pat Tillman's Parents Are No Longer Silent