Much has been written about Michael Vick's dog fighting ring. About the 70 dogs seized, the cruelty they were subjected to and the two year sentence that came when the NFL football player admitted that he pitted dogs against dogs. And killed—with his own hands—the losing animals.
The single sentence that seems to best summarize the abject cruelty of Vick was pulled by Sports Illustrated from the 18-page indictment against the footballer:
"In or about April of 2007, Peace, Phillips and Vick executed approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sessions at 1915 Moonlight Road by various methods, including hanging, drowning and slamming at least one dog's body to the ground."
Vick served 23 months in prison. He returned to the NFL. And now he may return to the cover of the most popular football game of all time, Madden NFL.
Prior to 2001, every cover of Madden NFL featured the game's tumefied namesake in some form or other. But in 2001 Electronic Arts begin honoring an athlete by placing them on the cover of their popular football game. It is, as many football players have since said, the modern day equivalent to earning a spot on a box of Wheaties or the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Past cover athletes have included Brett Favre, Ray Lewis, and in 2004, Michael Vick.
Now Vick has a second chance to make the cover of Madden, with his inclusion in this year's 32 nominees for Madden NFL 12.
EA Sports is putting the cover of Madden NFL 12 up to a vote of fans for a second year, staging a 32-player, March Madness-style playoff from today through April 27.
Rob Semsey, director of public relations at EA Sports, explained to how the 32 candidates were selected:
"Candidates from each NFL team were selected and seeded based on a variety of criteria including: on-the-field performance during the 2010 NFL season, visibility within their franchise and community, and their personal career journey," he wrote. "Each and every candidate has proven they have a right to be featured on the cover of Madden NFL 12 and it's up to the fans to decide which player they want to be the next face of the franchise."
Why did they include Vick, a felon with a violent, dog-fighting past, among players who perhaps deserve the recognition they receive as professional athletes?
"Michael Vick is a candidate to be on the cover of Madden NFL 12 because of his performance on the field – where last year he was the Comeback Player of the Year and a leading MVP candidate," Semsay replied. "He has acknowledged his past mistakes, and he's also demonstrated impressive growth off-the-field since his return. As a former Madden NFL cover athlete (Madden NFL 2004), Michael also knows what's involved in representing the franchise."
I don't agree. Animal cruelty is the basest kind of crime. Dog fighting, the worst of animal cruelty, with no greater purpose than to entertain through bloodsport. I've covered dog fighting as a police reporter. It is a horrendous act.
Vick's Bad Newz Kennels ran dogfights in several states over a 6-year period. Vick's hands-on approach to the killing of dogs that were deemed too timid to fight was over the top even for others involved in dogfighting.
The notion that Vick can in anyway be deemed a role model, that he should be honored as a cover athlete is beyond absurd. No matter how good of a season he had in the NFL last year—or how desperate Electronic Arts is for controversy.
The ASPCA, which helped in the 2007 case against Vick and his co-conspirators, were surprised to hear that a man who's name has become synonymous with illegal bloodsport was being considered for the cover of a video game.
"Although Michael Vick served his time and is entitled to earn a living, the ASPCA was strongly against him being able to immediately re-join the NFL where he plays alongside highly paid elite athletes who are looked upon as heroes and role models," a spokesman told Kotaku. "It is disappointing to learn that Mr. Vick is one of the finalists and may be chosen to appear on the cover of a video game after he pleaded guilty to a multi-year pattern of pre-meditated behaviour, torturing and killing dogs for sport. We certainly believe in second chances — and in redemption — but he has only just begun his journey toward rehabilitation. Second chances must be earned through contrition, a commitment to the cause of animal welfare, and through hard work, which takes many, many years."