Sara Whitman

Michael Vick: You Should Have Been Beating Women Instead

Filed By Sara Whitman | August 22, 2007 10:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: animal abuse, dog fighting, domestic violence, Michael Vick, violence, women

I posted this piece on Huffington Post today. I am currently getting hammered for being out of touch with my perception.

I believe Michael Vick did something terrible. Horrible. Sadistic. I also believe there are players in all the professional leagues who have been convicted of domestic violence that still collect a pay check and still get to play ball.

Hurt a woman? Who cares. But a dog? Dogs rate.

Here it is... if you think I'm wrong, let me have it.

When the Michael Vick case first came out I was quick to jump to the conclusion this was the railroading of a Black man. Vick was probably not even remotely involved but the press was going to lynch him for it anyway.

Plenty of dog fighting rings being run by white guys that are still running this very second, getting busted and not a whisper of it in the news. Same ridiculous double standard the media always plays when it comes to crime and the color of someone's skin.

Then I read a piece this morning by Sandra Kobrin, "Beat a Woman? Play on. Beat a Dog? You're Gone." I would add gay bashing, too, as Tim Hardaway, among others, still garner the adoration of many fans regardless of stating proudly, "I hate gays'" on national radio.

The double standard, it seems, is not only about race - I still believe race played a huge factor in the reporting of this case - but about what you are abusing. Hit a puppy? Go to jail. Hit a woman? Well, we all lose our tempers sometimes, don't we? Rape a woman? You might lose some endorsement money. Maybe. It depends on how well you can humiliate and discredit the victim in the press.

Ask the football players at the University of Colorado. Better yet, ask all the victims.

Kobrin points out the professional sports leagues policies being adapted to insure no animal abuse will ever be accepted on any level at any time. Everyone is quick to insure the safety of small helpless creatures. Lots of very serious talk about unacceptable behavior and the cruelty of it.

No such policy exists about spousal abuse or any domestic violence. Let's face it, in this country, beating or raping a woman is not as serious a crime as dog fighting or animal abuse. Michael Vick is facing FEDERAL charges. If he had women fighting in a pit, half starved and beaten to be violent? He could have sold the TV rights for millions.

Don't get me wrong - I have a dog and cannot imagine ever hitting her for any reason. I also have a wife I cannot imagine ever hitting either. Maybe it's just me but I think my wife deserves more laws and protections than my dog does. I do believe her life is more valuable, her experience more important and her safety far more paramount to our society's well being than my dog's.

Today, however, the message is clear - if Michael Vick had been beating women? He'd be in preseason games instead of court.

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Leland Frances | August 22, 2007 11:21 PM

I'm confused. Not a new state of being for me, but still.... Did a Jasmyne Cannick essay get posted by mistake under Sarah Whitman's name? After all, Cannick is a one-woman Las Vegas when it comes to playing race cards. Or can white women play the Black race card now, too? Does one need a special license from the Isaiah Washington Institute for Martyrs? ["Limitations; Section 14.d: Anyone suspected of being members of the Gay White Racist Mafia are ineligible for this license."]

Second question: when you first heard that Tim Hardaway allegedly said he hates "gay people," did you "quick[ly] jump to the conclusion this was the railroading of a Black man; that [Hardaway] was probably not even remotely involved but the press was going to lynch him for it anyway," and, if not, why?

Third question: why the false "either/or" construct? Why can we not have laws equally protecting both women and dogs — and men and children and cats and fill-in-the-blank — from sociopaths of whatever color?

Thank you.

Leland, if you're going to ask questions with no basis in fact or logic, please refrain from commenting.

Steve Ralls | August 23, 2007 8:35 AM

While I don't agree with Leland that caucasian men and women are unable to recognize, call out and sympathize with race baiting (especially white LGBT Americans), I do agree that advocating for animal rights and other rights is not mutually exclusive. We can do both.

Is domestic violence acceptable? Never. But does that mean that we cannot advocate for rules, regulations and laws to curb animal abuse? Absolutely not.

There is no excuse for Michael Vick's behavior, and he shouldn't get a pass, no matter what his ethnic background. And while I don't know that we should carry the banner on 'thought censorship' (by telling Hardaway he has to feel a certain way about gay people), when fists are flying (to wives OR animals) it seems appropriate to step in and try to stop it.

What Michael Vick did was abuse, period. And wife-beating is abuse, too. But is harboring a prejudice (like Hardaway's) abusive if it's just a viewpoint, and not a fist crossing your face? That's the better question to be asking about Sarah's post, I think.

Jen Jorczak | August 23, 2007 9:17 AM

I totally agree that it is BEYOND fucked up that the many many many domestic violence cases against not just NFL players but professional sportsmen in general got a fraction of the media attention, protests, or punishment that this dogfighting case is getting.

What I'm told by friends and family who know more about the rules & regs of professional sports leagues than I do, is that a) this year sees new rules and punishments, and that future DV cases would be handled more strictly than in the past, and b) what's really going to end Vick's career is not that he was cruel to animals, but that he gambled on the fights--apparently, gambling is the bigger sin in the eyes of the commissioners than cruelty to woman or canine.

I have to disagree with you here. It's true that violence against women and children isn't taken as seriously as it should be when it comes to celebrities, and many times the media is quick to paint black males, especially successful ones, as mindlessly violent when their white counterparts are just "troubled." But in this case I don't think race or the species of the victim had much to do with the charges.

This isn't a matter of Vick hitting a puppy. Vick personally killed at least 8 dogs in very cruel ways. CNN reports that "dogs that didn't show enough fighting spirit, or that lost matches, were put to death by a variety of methods, including shooting, drowning, hanging and electrocution."

I think if Vick had perpetrated any of those acts on any human being, man, woman or child, there would be even more of an uproar.

People really seem up in arms about this, it's true. For argument's sake you and Kobrin do raise interesting points. There's nothing wrong with your analogy (which is stimulating interblog (crossblog?) action) - apparently you might have wanted to rephrase it to penetrate the more dense: there is a price on making assault against women disappear, but dogs can't be paid off...

Switching gears and disagreeing with you on one of your points though, I think this case is not about race but about celebrity. Unless, of those plenty of dog rings you refer to, some are being run by famous white people (which I don't know, I didn't look into it).

I want to narrow in on a comment on your HP posting which highlights the obscured bigger picture of your argument: the get-out-of-jail-free card seemingly handed out to athletes, well, pro-sports team players at least. They can afford - or their teams can afford - to make the problem simply go away.

So, I ask, is this not learned behavior? Are these players ever held accountable for their actions? Starting in high school, then college, where the general rule is 'in order to stay on the team you must maintain a certain GPA.' Blind eyes are turned while understandings are reached and these players are then given - they do not earn! - passing grades in order to stay on the team for the benefit of the school. This seems to be a reflection of our own society's pattern of hypocrisy. Why shouldn't Vick have thought he could get away with it? And, no, I'm not saying that failing algebra is in the same caliber as running an illegal gambling and dog fighting ring - I'm merely suggesting these things don't happen in a vacuum and these days as a society we seem to thrive on the mis-steps (i.e. underage drinking) of celebrities. Mis-steps which we ourselves help induce (no one asks for i.d. or shuts down the bar).

These players are over-valued on too many levels in our culture. It sorta takes the fun out of it.

beergoggles | August 23, 2007 10:34 AM

Well, I do think Leland had one valid point that he expressed in the last paragraph of his post. I'd like to know the answer to that as well.

Leland Frances | August 23, 2007 11:21 AM

Hmmm. Perhaps you're confusing "questions" with "statements," Damian. Questions, by definition, don't require "fact" or "logic" but are meant to elicit same.

If I asked, "What time is it in Paris?" or "What's on the menu today?" or "Where did you get that beautiful shirt?" or "Why did so many gays vote for Bush in both 2000 and 2004?" would you similarly flame me? Or is the issue more that you don't like THESE questions?

I would like to address the issue of the false "either/or" construct in this post. I understand and agree that setting up a zero-sum game when it comes to human (and animal) rights leaves everyone losers; however, reducing the observations in this essay to choosing between animals and women misses the point: WHY do we (meaning mainstream media, NFL officials, the majority of Americans) react so strongly and with such loud exclamations when an animal is abused but we turn a blind eye when a woman is?

This whole story line illustrates the stark and startling devaluation of women in our society. If we do not stand up and say, loudly and clearly, that we will not tolerate violence against women, then we are failing to do our duty in a just society. And we are not making that statement.

I am not saying that Vick should not be punished, but we have not seen similar punishment for professional athletes who abuse their intimate partners. The most recent statistics I've seen (and these are dated, from the early 1990s), showed 21% of NFL players having been charged with at least one serious, violent offense.

And their punishments have ranged from nothing to a minor fine and up to two game suspension! (Assuming they weren't incarcerated.)

If we do not take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on violence that is so pervasive in our society, we are missing an important chance to make the world a better place.

It is not the individuals who want to call attention to professional sports players' violence against women that are creating a false either-or construct. Rather, the cowards who raise this as an issue are using it as a flimsy excuse to avoid looking at a serious problem.


You know what Damian was saying. What if I asked you an innocent question like "Have you stopped having sex with your pet goat?" There's a premise to that, and when you sit around saying that Jasmyne Cannick and others are playing race cards (I guess that's the easy way to ignore race issues by just implying that they're doing it for greed, poor poor you who every now and then has to stop and listen to people say that they're being hurt by racism, maybe they'll just shut up and get real jobs, can I get a hear hear?), people are going to call you on it. You could at least have a response, like arguing that racism is good. Maybe you like it, I don't know. If I ask that as a question, can I avoid criticism?

Carrie's comment~

Agreed. I don't think that Sarah is setting up an either/or, just questioning which comes first. And from my understanding of the media coverage and the NFL punishment, it's pretty clear who does. Maybe Jen's right, and this is just a new trend in the NFL. In the end, it probably has more to do with the fact that women who are victims can be eviscerated in the press and made out to be liars or sluts or whatever is the new word for those that society will accept as deserving it.

Leland Frances | August 23, 2007 10:20 PM

I don't read minds. I can only respond to what someone writes or says.

1. Thus came my third question after Sarah wrote, "I think my wife deserves more laws and protections than my dog does. I do believe her life is more valuable, her experience more important and her safety far more paramount to our society's well being than my dog's." No ambiguity there.

2. What I THINK Damian was "saying" was that he simply didn't like what I wrote but, instead of responding with "facts" or "logic" of his own, he simply flamed me as having none and, therefore, though he put it more euphemistically, I should just shut the F up. I could be wrong, of course, but he gave me nothing to reach any other conclusion with.

3. Similarly, there is a difference between "calling someone out" with whom you disagree, employing counter facts and/or opinions — and simply yelling unintelligible things at them. Alex, you did not simply say you disagree [which is our mutual right] with my belief that Jasmyne Cannick frequently plays the proverbial race card, but chose instead to accuse me of bringing up such an issue so that I could easily "ignore race issues" which comes pretty damn close to calling me a racist. In the absence of any evidence that could reasonably lead you or anyone else to either inflammatory conclusion, I would appreciate more respectful, fact-based responses if not an outright apology.

4. RE "that they're doing it for greed" — Sorry, try as I might, I simply cannot figure out where you pulled this from. I have no reason to believe that Cannick is making any money per se out of her broadsides against those who have dared suggest that Washington and Vick have done wrong and are accountable, but she is making a fool out of herself. Which I genuinely regret given that another crusade she launched — against "Shirley Liquor" — was one I totally agreed with — even as another gay person of color, RuPaul, vigorously did not.

5. My second question was genuinely motivated by my curiosity about how and why Sarah asserted herself she makes such snap judgments as "When the Michael Vick case first came out I was quick to jump to the conclusion this was the railroading of a Black man." That and other directions her essay wanders into confuse me as they either intersect or bump into each other.

6. Perhaps I need to try even harder than I do to make myself clear and not leave room for assumptions motivated by innocent misunderstanding of what I say, as evidenced by Steve's introductory comment, or for conscious misrepresentations motivated by the desire to demean ad hominem.

For the record, I do NOT believe "that Caucasian men and women are unable to recognize, call out and sympathize with race baiting (especially white LGBT Americans)." Each of those admirable responses are entirely different from "playing the race card" which is — at its best — obfuscation, counterproductive, and the rhetorical equivalent of cheating at actual cards, hence the expression.

Denise Travers | August 23, 2007 10:49 PM

I think it's disingenuous to suggest, Sarah and Carrie, that we "turn a blind eye" when a woman or child is abused, or that we take a "Who cares?" attitude. If nothing else, it's an insult to all the people who have worked to change domestic violence laws and work for victim advocacy.

The fact is, the laws on the books that protect animals didn't get there by some fanciful action: they got there by rigorous, grassroots effort on the part of animal welfare activists. I was a part of the campaign which created felony status for animal abuse in Indiana. Do I think animals are "more important" than women? No. But I don't think they're *less* important, either. I was motivated to increase penalties for animal abuse in Indiana because I worked at our local animal shelter for 8 years, and saw the positively horrific things that happen to animals every day.

People who are activists choose the topics which are closest to them. I chose animal abuse, and worked my ass off to increase penalties in Indiana. It was a tough battle, but -- as a volunteer, mind you -- I lobbied and made phone calls, testified at hearings and wrote letters, rounded up other supporters and pressed the issue. And, about 5 months later, stood next to the Governor as he signed our bill into law.

I have no explanation whatsoever for why, indeed, in some instances there are stiffer penalties for animal abuse than some forms of abuse against humans. But I do know that there's no twisted agenda on the part of animal activists; no one's *trying* to make animals more important than humans.

I do also know that there is an undeniable, positive correlation between animal abuse and abuse to humans. In a recent study, it was revealed that over 90% of violent offenders abused animals before they took to violence against humans. Doesn't it, therefore, make sense to see "cracking down" on animal abuse as a *preventative* measure? Isn't it better to address abusive tendencies expressed against animals *before* they escalate into abuse against humans?

I guess my final question is this: if you're disgusted about the state of DV laws in this country, what are YOU doing to try to change it? There's simply no need to tear down the work of other activists who have been successful in their work because you don't personally value their "pet project" as much as they do.

As a woman, I don't disagree with you that women are second class citizens in this country (at best). I don't, however, think that the country's response to the Vick situation is the strongest example of that, however.

It doesn't have to be an either/or. We can -- and must -- work to protect *all* people who are abused or neglected or terrorized. But, we don't have to do that at the expense of working to protect animals, too. To suggest otherwise, as you do, is a reflection of your own humanity.

Denise Travers | August 23, 2007 10:55 PM

Oh, and one more thing:

You can consult the American Humane Society, the Humane Society of the United States, or the ASPCA and they will all report the same information: OVERWHELMINGLY, those who participate in dog fighting (and cock fighting, I'll have you know) are either African American or Hispanic.

This is one reason it absolutely disgusts me that the NAACP of Atlanta would say ONE WORD to remotely defend Vick. This tragedy is an INCREDIBLE opportunity for education and behavior change in the African American and Hispanic communities. But this fact is lost in all of the other "race card" issues being raised in reference to Vick's crimes.

So many opportunities for *some* kind of positive outcome from this horrific situation, but we all seem to be too busy arguing with each other to sieze any of these opportunities.

Cassandra Scott | August 23, 2007 11:58 PM

It is a rare occasion when abuse of an animal makes wordwide headlines. The sad fact is unimaginably horrific torture and abus of animals happens every day all over the world. And there are precious few protections for them. And those protections did notcome easily. There are animals being skinned alive, boiled alive, beaten and impaled all for the amusement of some truly sick people. Where are the headlines for those animals? Is it less painful or terrifying for them because they are not human. I do not believe that as a society we turn a blind eye to rape and domestic abuse against women. Life is life, and it should be respected in all its forms. No one life form is more precious than any other. Human arrogance-we think far too much of ourselves.

So much to respond to, so early in the morning. let me do my best-

One, Leland? I did believe, without question, that Vick was being railroaded because he was Black back in April when this case first broke. Do you honestly think if say, Brett Farve had been accused of what was at the time, merely a dog fighting/gambling ring- the gruesome details had yet to be disclosed- he would not have been given the benefit of the doubt that it merely happened on his property when he was away? If you do, I think you're wrong. Wrong because our media in this country is racist in it's reporting of crime. Go sit down and watch the local and national news for a week- take a tally pad. Everytime a violent crime is reported, write down the color of the persons skin. See how often "white" is used. it's not. If a caucasion commits a crime, it's reported as "a man" or "a woman" Not a White. Go ahead. do it. My point will be proved.

Secondly, I don't think it's an either or situation. I find it appalling that there is a crew of abusive, violent men who are allowed to continue to play sports due to their ability to play well. It takes a lot to outrage anyone in this country. Beat your wife, no one even feels that anymore. Kill, torture, dogs? My God, people, we were doing that to HUMAN BEINGS at Abu Ghurayb in Iraq! Someone commented at Huffington if Vick had been at Gitmo, he would have been given the Medal of Honor.

I'm merely pointing out our societies priorities. Dogs rate over people. We are outraged over a small, helpless animal's torture. I think that means there is hope for us, in the long run. At least we still feel that.

And I promise a few follow up pieces about race- I find it interesting if you bring up race you become a race baiter, accused of playing an inflammatory card but... I feel it's important that we look at the discussion from many different angles.

As far as professional sports, I have a deep love of baseball, basketball and football. I have watched and followed sports since I was about five years old. I believe there are many incredible men who play the game on a professional level. I also agree there is a huge double standard for athletes at all levels which does a disservice to them as young men growing up. I am awed by Shaq's ability to play but more awed by the work he's doing around obesity in children.

Okay, I said it was early and I've only had one cup of coffee.

Denise Travers | August 24, 2007 2:33 PM

Interesting that you cross-posted your little essay from HP to here, in order to get some more feedback. And yet, when feedback is offered, you just ignore it.

You continue to claim it's not an "either/or" situation. Yet you also continue your "Dogs rate over people" thesis. Which is it?

It's bad writing, and infantile thinking == that's what it is.

As I said before: the fact that you seem to believe that the orchestrated, repeated, murderous torture of dozens of animals isn't as important as abuse against humans reflects your *own* humanity. Or lack thereof.

If you're such a fan of professional sports (an admission that in and of itself makes me question your posts even more), why not start a campaign to get the leagues to change their positions regarding players who have been committed of violent crimes?

Oh, I see. It's much easier to just sit behind your computer and complain on a blog. I get it.

Your perspective is pretty damn appalling. And ill-informed. And callous. And I'm embarassed for you that you would proclaim all these ideas in a national forum. Shame on you.

[EDITOR'S NOTE:] Some of you are getting awfully close to violating Terms of Service here.

Note: Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, uses excessive foul language, is exceptionally incoherent, includes a homophobic, racist, sexist or other slur or is soliciting and/or advertising.

I wouldn't call the comments abusive, per se, but we're skirting the line. Passions can run high and get the best of me often, so I understand abuse wasn't anyone's intent. However, let's be respectful of each other even when strong feelings are involved, please.

Alison Healey | August 25, 2007 2:13 PM

I'm not going to try to make a profound post here, I just wanted to thank SOMEONE for pointing out that beating, raping, or killing a woman is unremarkable these days, even for celebrities. I fight with my friend about the Vick case constantly. He loves dogs (as do I) and is appalled by Vick's actions (as am I). What I find troubling is that he, along with a shocking number of other people, admits that violence against women "doesn't bother [him] as much." I don't understand people's priorities these days.

Let's stop with the counter-productive comparisons, shall we?

I watched Vick's public apology with my little son who USED TO wear Michael Vick jerseys to school. It is disturbing to think a certain percentage of the population is honestly going to be swayed by Michael Vick's "enlightenment" carefully crafted by his overpaid attorneys. Call me a cynic, but I don't believe a man who has been allegedly torturing animals since childhood coincidentally has a religious epiphany as a result of getting caught and losing his job. I hope I am wrong.

If there is anything good about the Michael Vick story, it is that there is an emerging increased awareness about animal cruelty and animal fighting. There is so much anger about this issue. If we channel it into a positive direction, hopefully, something good can come of it. However...

I think it is a sad commentary that we, as a culture, are using the Vick story to compare "What's worse?" "What's worse", we ask, "carelessly fathering illegitimate children, or dogfighting?". "Dogfighting or gambling?" "Dogfighting or rape?" "Dogfighting or racism?" "Dogfighting or hateful nationalism?" "Dogfighting or domestic violence?" "Dogfighting or (fill in the blank)....?" The comparisons to dogfighting have been endless.

Dogfighting is one more piece of evidence our country is in need of a spiritual transformation (please note I said spiritual and not necessarily religious). Animals are sentient beings - they feel pain, and they suffer, just like we do. They are not more important, or less important than human beings, but like human beings, they are important, too.

Dogfighting pits one dog against another until one of them dies. The survivor gets his flesh torn off, ears ripped off, eyes pulled out, etc., and the reward for being "a winner" is to writhe in pain until the next fight. Enough said. The pictures make my flesh crawl. The losers are tortured, beaten, starved, electrocuted or drowned. For what? Because these poor creatures were unlucky enough to be born a dog!

Every major faith teaches its followers to be responsible stewards of animals and the Earth. Please help us get the word out that caring for animals, just like caring for people, is an important part of just being a decent person and citizen. If we make this a priority, there will be no more dogfighting horror stories, and no more pointless comparisons of evils. Let us all rise, together, to be better people than we are today, shall we?

Chaplain Nancy Cronk