Michael Vick’s Reinstatement: One Rabbi’s Thoughts
I’m a serious football fan. (Football has contributed to my spiritual development by teaching me the virtue of patience; I’m a Jets fan). So I paid a great deal of attention to the NFL’s reinstatement of Michael Vick.
Michael Vick is a talented quarterback (drafted first overall in 2001), who by 2004 was one of the highest paid athletes in the world. In 2007 it was discovered that Vick was running an illegal dogfighting ring on a property he owned in Virginia. (This was just one incident in a pattern of troubling behavior that Vick had shown in his six years in the NFL). He was convicted of Federal and State charges, and served nearly a year and a half of jail time. He was suspended from the NFL, and had to declare personal bankruptcy.
On July 27th, Vick was reinstated to play in the NFL. This reinstatement is conditional, provided that Vick follows a set of conditions to ensure he improves his personal behavior.
Vick’s reinstatement is extremely controversial, as many feel that Vick should banned for life because of his crimes. Personally, I don’t agree. Let me explain.
No question, animal cruelty is a serious crime. Rules against animal cruelty are included in the Noahide laws, Judaism’s universal laws for humanity. There is no way to diminish the crime of animal cruelty by claiming “it’s just dogs”.
And without question, punishment must be meted out for crimes. This is true even in cases where the person has changed their ways. As I have pointed out elsewhere, human justice cannot constantly adjust to the spiritual status of the criminal. There needs to be consistent penalties for the justice system to function as a deterrent.
But Vick has been punished for his crimes. There is no need for the NFL to punish Vick a second time for his crimes.
However, the real question facing the NFL is this: does Michael Vick deserve forgiveness? The Talmud is clear that punishment alone doesn’t rehabilitate the criminal. The criminal must commit to act differently in the future, and regret his past actions; in short, the criminal must repent. There’s no reason for the NFL to treat Vick as a citizen in good standing, just because he was released from jail.
To offer Vick an unconditional reinstatement would have been a mistake, because a criminal remains a criminal until he has changed his ways. That is why the current conditional reinstatement is the right way to do things. Vick is not being given a free pass; he must commit to be a good citizen in the future. But if Vick is willing to change his ways, to repent, he should be given a second chance. The prophet Ezekiel (18:21-23) declares that God wants to offer second chances to those who repent: "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? Says the Lord, God; and not rather that he should return from his ways and live?".
If God is ready to offer Michael Vick a second chance, we should offer him one as well.