Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Criminal, Sociopath, or Just Plain Stupid?

This title could refer to the Calabrese family, on trial in Chicago this summer (and ably written about by our very own Barb D'Amato in Sunday's Tribune). It could even refer to the legions of long-suffering Cub fans. But I was thinking more particularly of Michael Vick.

Disclaimer: I am a football fan. Pro football goes against all my deepest principles, but I love it anyway. One of my cousins, Chip Edwards, played defensive end for Duke. He was recruited by the Chiefs and the Cowboys. I respected his decision to turn his back on football--too many times waking up and not knowing if it was blue sky or blue grass he was looking at--but I had regrets--I imagined myself, cousin of the star, with 50 yardline tickets.

Michael Vick said in federal court today that his five years of dog torture and dog fighting were an "aberration." He apologized to the children who idolize him.

Liza Cody (whose books should be on everyone's nightstand--no one writes her beautiful, economic prose) says that despite the many different ways humans have suffered and/or died in her books, the only time she got an angry letter from a reader was when she killed a cat. Is this what we're seeing with Michael Vick? He's not such a bad guy, just that he liked the thrills and bills you get with dog fighting? But because all of us liberals like Fifi and Rover, we can't deal with a man who himself is trained to fight running a dog-fighting ring?

Six years ago, a Chicago police sergeant visited me with a pit dog he was having to put down. He'd rescued her from a torture chamber on the south side, but she'd been punished too much to be redeemed. the ASPCA says only about 10 percent of fighting dogs can be rehabilitated; the rest have to be euthanized. The sergeant wanted me to write a book about dog fighting, but the photographs he had were too shocking. I couldn't take it and had to say no. The sergeant said he used to be a laughingstock in the Chicago Police Department for caring about animals. That was before FBI profiles began showing that the torture of animals is usually a first step for sociopaths on the road to torturing and murdering humans. So is Vick a sociopath, or just a misguided young man, who also smuggled (allegedly) dope onto a plane last January?

Still, as Rick Morrissey in the Chicago Tribune and Errol Louis in the New York Post both pointed out, there's a collective yawn when NFL stars abuse women. Guys do these things, let's not get derailed from a cheer and a beer. "Three years ago Michael Pittman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced assault charges after his fourth domestic-violence arrest," Louis wrote on August 23. "He'd rammed his Hummer into a car carrying his wife and infant son and their son's baby-sitter. The penalty was a three-game suspension. Lionel Gates, another Bucs player, was arrested and charged with beating a pregnant woman. The team made him take an anger-management course. Lamar Thomas, a former Miami Dolphins player, smashed his pregnant fiancée's head through a window. He was allowed to keep playing."
Adds Louis, "It's not just a football thing. Brett Myers of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball club allegedly dragged his wife around by the hair on a public street. The team gave him a paid leave of absence. Bobby Chouinard of the Colorado Rockies was sentenced to a year in jail for holding a loaded pistol to his wife's head - but was allowed to serve the penalty three months at a time. During the off-season."

I listened on Saturday to WaitWait Don't Tell Me--the NPR news quiz, which I also enjoy, along with football. Bob Saget was a guest contestant. Talking about one movie, in response to a question from Peter Segal, he said, "The hookers were played by actresses, which means they were played by real hookers." Everyone laughed and applauded. Is that the difference in how we view the abuse of dogs and the abuse of women? Dogs are real, important--women are just hookers?

Okay, now I'm starting to feel just plain stupid.

by Sara Paretsky

28 comments:

Shannon G said...

It is utterly amazing to me that unless it's violence at the level of Rae Carruth or OJ Simpson, the sports world turns a blind eye to the abuse of women. If Michael Vick had tried to strangle a woman, he probably would not have been punished by the Falcons.

Maryann Mercer said...

Personally I think Michael Vick should be shuttled off to some tropical island and left at the mercy of the wild boars...stupid doesn't begin to cover his actions, criminal or otherwise. What bothers me is that his career won't die along with the poor animals that must be euthanized. Apologies won't cut it, especially if the lack of penalty makes it seem not all that important to the kids who idolize him. Jail? Well, it wouldn't be Joliet or Folsom. One thing we've learned lately is that celebrities rarely end up in places like those. A more fitting punishment? Working with abused animals for a year or two (and not just during the 'off season')after a stint in solitary.

And as an addendum to shannon's post, if a woman had tried to strangle Michael Vick, she would have been convicted BEFORE the trial. Oh.Did I mention? Animal abuse (abuse of any kind really) pushes every button I have.
Thanks Sara.

Barbara D'Amato said...

The Vick thing makes me SO MAD. And some other moral moron player said it wasn't a problem because they were "his dogs." Vick has now admitted to making "a mistake." Well, no. A mistake is something like not feeding the parking meter.

JD Rhoades said...

You make a good point here. There seems to be a perception that women involved with pro athletes are basically starfuckers and thus somehow have it coming.

But those "poor dogs..."

Old said...

I hope we see changes in how the NFL disciplines players involved in cases mentioned in the post. I am giving Roger Goodell the benefit of the doubt for now. We shall see the next time an NFL player beats up his wife, or girlfriend, or other violations of law. I doubt a guy like Leonard Little would get off as lightly today as he did under Paul Tagliabue. (for more info about Little see here if you are not familiar with the case.)

Two things that astound me about the Vick case is how fast the Feds moved from investigation to charges to plea deals, and how wrong ESPN and other sports reporters were all along the way. If it had not been for the interstate crimes and the Feds involvement I do wonder what the outcome would have been.

Your larger point is interesting, and I will have to think about it for a long time. Personally, I can not stand a person who abuses another.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Great post, Sara.

We haven't come far from the Colosseum, have we--bloody fights for public entertainment? (And fights between celebrity spouses are just as entertaining to some segments of the population as football or dog fighting.)

Children don't fare much better. They're still the property of their parents, still left in dumpsters, or trotted off to foster care to wait for dysfunctional adults to get their shit together.

A psychologist I know suggested our society seems to be producing fewer neurotics (my word, I can't remember the psycho-babble term), and more individuals with personality disorders. Not being a psychologist, I'd chalk it up to an ubiquitous failure to practice and insist on empathy.

The Home Office said...

Criminal, Sociopath, or Just Plain Stupid?

Why choose? Vick has hit the trifecta.

Anonymous said...

Its not that women are viewed as less important than dogs. When a man abuses a woman I see someone who wasn't raised right and needs to learn to respect women and yes they need to punish them harsher than they have been but when someone hangs dogs from trees slams them around.drowns them let's other dogs kill them then I see someone with severe mental problems and doesn't need to be in society. I agree those NFL players deserved a worse punishment but Vick belongs in a mental institution. Your response was a typical woman response because instead of seeing things from other angles you felt threatened and saw it only from your perspective which surprises me because you do sound quiet intelligent

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