It’s time to stop demonizing Black men like Michael Vick and to extend to them the same grace other people seem to get. Credit: Justin Wolpert

Evan F. Moore is a culture/entertainment writer with the Chicago Sun-Times. Evan attended Donald Trump’s Chicago rally and lived to tell about it.

In the past month or so, I’ve watched so many people from my various social circles debate the activities—past and current—of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick.

When the NFL announced that Vick was named an honorary captain for the Pro Bowl, many of his detractors wanted to rehash the same arguments from yesteryear. 

A petition named “NFL: Stop Michael Vick from being Pro Bowl Captain,” which got more than 435,000 signatures, said this in its bio: “Mike Vick does not deserve the honor of being Pro Bowl Captain. He is a convicted felon and a known animal abuser, is this who we want our children to look up to?”

And the bio for a dueling petition from the same website named “Do NOT remove Michael Vick as Pro Bowl Captain,” which has about 295,000 supporters, states: “The same people who will preach about forgiveness for injustices against human life will hold grudges in regards to animals. Forgiveness is forgiveness.”

The first take exposes a double standard. After all, one could say Vick represents what our country says are the goals of imprisonment: rehabilitation and becoming a productive member of society.

Here’s what we know about Vick’s conviction: he served 18 months (three times the amount most people receive) in federal prison after admitting in 2007 that he participated in illegal dog fighting, the killing of dogs, and operating a business enterprise that involved illegal gambling. He also agreed to pay for the care of the surviving dogs.

And here’s what we know about his life post-prison: he resumed his NFL career and partnered with the Humane Society, spoke to young people and inmates about his life and crimes, and testified before Congress to stiffen dogfighting penalties.

Have you seen People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)—another Vick detractor—hold anti-dogfighting seminars on the south or west sides of Chicago? 

I didn’t think so. And one of their former employees admitted in the ESPN documentary that the outrage would’ve been different if Peyton Manning—a white quarterback—had participated in dogfighting instead of Vick. 

It’s a slap in the face to tell Black folks that the outrage surrounding Vick’s Pro Bowl involvement isn’t about race. In fact, many Black folks view the Vick outrage as white people caring more about dogs than Black people

And why did Vick’s detractors care so much about a game that swaths of football fans don’t even watch? 

What Michael Vick did was heinous. However, it should bother everyone that he spent more time in prison than anyone who’s responsible for killing Black people in the race massacres in Chicago and Tulsa (The Watchmen TV series didn’t make that up). Vick served time while George Zimmerman, Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, and countless others who have killed or injured Black folks for merely existing, have escaped conviction.

Me calling out this hypocrisy shouldn’t be conflated with a hatred of dogs or going easy on Vick because he’s famous—and Black. I just think that people can direct their energy elsewhere; there are plenty of issues to go around.

ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries on Vick’s life and career will likely continue to intensify the debate about his place in history. 

Some of you may turn your nose up at what I’ve written. 

But ask yourself this question: Do you see people from marginalized communities—Black folks—needing to be saved? Or as equals? 

Plenty of famous white folks have been convicted of crimes—including financial crimes that had devastating effects on people and the economy—and have gone on to lead successful public lives after serving their time. They’re not only given the benefit of the doubt; no one is writing, tweeting, or retweeting lengthy think pieces about whether they should be allowed back in the public sphere.

If people—looking at you, white people—really believe in the power of rehabilitation, it’s time to stop demonizing Black men like Vick and to extend to them the same grace other people seem to get. If you can’t do it, we all know why that is. v