Michael Vick and the ethics of rooting for the New York Jets


When is it OK to root against a personality on your favorite team? Do the rules of fandom dig this deep?

Michael Vick has been a New York Jet for almost a week, and rooting interests are starting to get just a little convoluted. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons quarterback is well known for formerly running a dog-fighting ring out of his home.

So it leaves me asking, “Can someone remain a Jets fan and still not root for his potential starting quarterback?”

Someone has to have come up with a law for this, some sort of advice we could take. But there’s nothing. There isn’t a general standard for these sorts of situations. At some point, you just have to choose between your principles and football.

There’s a different breaking point there for everyone. After all, on anyone’s favorite NFL team, there’s probably someone who has broken the law in some way, shape or form. This is, after all, the NFL, a league plagued by players with legal issues.

In the mid-1980s, when David Stern took over as commissioner of the NBA, the league had serious disciplinary problems. Players were racking up criminal records that rivaled War and Peace in length, and the NBA’s reputation continued to suffer. The main culprit in most of those issues: cocaine. The NBA had a serious drug infestation, and it didn’t seem to be going away. That is, until Stern came in, realized that reputation was at stake, and implemented a newly strict drug policy.

Legal troubles started to go down. Stern cleaned up the league. But, somehow, almost 30 years later, that troubled reputation still comes up at times today. Maybe now, those comments come in the form of Minnesota representative Pat Garofalo saying something outlandishly racist. But they still happen.

We may make jokes, quick quips about the NFL’s inability to keep its players in front of bars, but it doesn’t affect the way we watch the games. We still tune in every Sunday. We still wear our team’s colors, chug Bud Lights at tailgates and indirectly teach nine-year-old kids their first curse words. And we don’t bother to draw a line detailing for whom we should or should not root.

A few years back, the Jets signed Plaxico Burress, who had some legal issues of his own. Burress served almost two years in prison for weapon-possession charges. As a life-long Jets fan, did I like Burress? Not particularly. He seemed standoffish, maybe a little full of himself. He definitely wasn’t anyone I cared to go to dinner with to talk about the most recent episode of “Family Guy.” We probably weren’t two peas in a pod.

But I still rooted for Burress. He was a Jet. I never thought twice about it. That’s just the culture of being a fan. You unconditionally root for the jersey at all costs.

But what if someone wearing the jersey has done unspeakable things? What if it’s someone like Michael Vick?

I’m not one of those people who thinks Vick should still be in jail. Actually, Vick probably served too much time, spending 21 months in prison after his involvement in dog fighting. That length may have had as much to do with a judge making an example of him as anything else. But those who root for Vick often justify it by saying, “He’s served his time! What more do you want?”

That’s not the point.

Vick doesn’t deserve more jail time. He shouldn’t be exiled from society, living with the lepers somewhere at the top of a sequestered hill. But now that he’s one of the most talented quarterbacks to join the team I’ve rooted for my whole life, the ambivalence is rising.

Vick has paid his dues. Publicly, he’s done everything he possibly could to make amends with every person he disgusted in the past.

Speaking out against dog fighting. Standing up for animal rights. Doing any sort of charity work that can make him look good. It’s all there. It’s all part of the expected blueprint. But even if Vick is being as honest as he can possibly be, does that fully matter?

Vick didn’t just set up dogs to fight. He ordered their executions.

Electrocution. Hanging. Beatings.

That’s not the work of a bad guy. It’s not what a typical sick person might do. They’re psychopathic actions, moves that even criminals may think are too awful to commit. Whether Vick qualifies as a psychopath, I don’t know. That’s a medical term, something a doctor would have to diagnose. But those thoughts don’t just go away because you’ve been locked in a cell. Maybe the actions do. Maybe you understand the consequences more. But a desire to kill and torture in the most gruesome ways possible isn’t something that naturally pops into anyone’s head. It takes someone far more disordered to pull off any of what Vick did.

The actions have changed, and the public perception has with it. Vick doesn’t deserve to serve anymore time, but does that mean we, as Jets fans, have to like him? Do we have to root for him? And if we don’t, does that mean we’re not quite as big Jets fans as we once thought we were?

There’s got to be a line somewhere. It all just depends on where you choose to draw it.┬áNo one would ever root for Aaron Hernandez again. Yet, fans and the NFL alike have glorified Ray Lewis to no end over the past 14 years.

And therein lies the issue. We don’t know where that line is hiding. No one ever taught us this. The NFL never prepared us for this. And now, even five years later, someone who has never owned a dog, never wanted to have one (and has never even really liked dogs, honestly) is stuck here questioning if it’s kosher to root for his favorite team’s potential starting quarterback.

Vick may have a great year, and if he does, it’ll be nearly impossible not to cheer along. Which doesn’t make his actions any less deplorable. It doesn’t make these sorts of mixed feelings less valid. It just makes all of them easier to forget. And ultimately, that’s really the only way Vick can get back into someone’s good graces. Even after half a decade of dealing with life after incarceration, he has to make people forget.

Previous articleColts horseshoe mailbag
Next articleMailbag: What to think of the Shaun Hill signing?
  • Rayf

    The “line” you speak of is personal. Each fan will have to draw it themselves. In my case, the signing of Michael Vick is pretty upsetting. Animal cruelty prevention is an important issue in my life. Most of my charity dollars go toward it. It’s the main reason why I’m a vegan. Me and my wife consider our pets as part of the family. It’s an issue I think about every day. And now, with what, more than 100 QBs in the league, my team decides to sign this guy. Wow. My gut says, just take a hiatus from the Jets until he goes away. But I don’t know if I can do that. I’ve been a Jets fan for over 30 years. I do know I won’t be rooting for Vick in any shape or form, no matter what he does on the field. That’s not just me being spiteful. I read the investigative report of what he did. As you noted in your column, dog fighting was the least of it. The torture and long drawn out deaths he put those innocent animals through was maniacally abhorrent. He technically didn’t even do prison time for those crimes — the animal cruelty charges were plea bargained away as part of his sentence, which was for running a dog fighting operation. In addition to all that, I have to hear Tony Dungy and Roger Goodell tell me how he has “matured,” as if he was just a crazy kid up to some trivial hijinks when he was doing his dog fighting thing. Do I hate Michael Vick? I don’t think so. I can only shake my head and wonder how he could have done the things he did, as I do with any case of animal cruelty, of which there are way to many in this world. But there’s no way I could root for him. I think in the end I’ll be holding NFL football at arms length for however long Vick in playing for the Jets.

  • Jeremy Mackinder

    Jeremy Mackinder, managing editor of the cover32.com/lions page. I wrote about this the day he signed. I can’t forgive him, I just don’t have it in me. Seeing how dogs are treated in Detroit, and with my ex-wife having worked intimately with them, there’s images I can’t get out of my head ever. We have a pit bull, and he’s the sweetest dog I’ve ever known.
    I don’t believe Vick when he says that he’s seen the error of his ways and I don’t care what he does to “make up” for what he did. I also don’t care if he “served his time” or what culture he was brought up in. It is not acceptable human behavior to do what he did and I also find it easy to condemn the Jets for signing him.
    I’ve watched the Lions religiously since I was 6 years old. To answer your question, if they were to sign Vick, I would never watch them again.

  • stacey mercer

    it realy sad that we wont god to have mercy on us but we wont have mercy on certian people

  • george pearsall

    I’m a dog trainer and I will NOT forgive or forget what vick did to those poor dogs for his enjoyment. Any one that did this to those animals should never have been able to play football again . And to reward this man with a big NFL contract is just wrong. I loved the jets but to have vick on the team makes me sick. I wouldn’t like vick if every pass he threw was a touchdown, it would only bring back memories of what vick did to those dogs.
    I wonder if vick remembers how much the dogs cried out in pain when they were being abused?????Some people might treat vick like a superhero but lot more people might
    like to treat him as good as he treated those dogs. Won’t be going to any jets games this year.