"What Vick did wasn't a mistake. It was a way of life."
Vick's lawyer announced Monday that the Atlanta Falcons quarterback will plead guilty next week to conspiracy charges in the dogfighting case against him. He'll avoid more serious federal charges, but will likely do some prison time. Speculation ranges from 10 months to something close to the five-year maximum, though most observers are guessing 12 to 24 months. He'll enter the plea Monday.
"Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges," lead defense attorney Billy Martin said in Monday's statement, "and to accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made."
Mistakes? Driving drunk is a mistake, a bad decision. Pulling out a gun instead of walking away from a bar fight. That's a mistake. What Vick did wasn't a mistake. It was a way of life. The illegal interstate dogfighting and gambling operation he's pleading guilty to having run was a going concern for five years.
If we wanted to, we could get into a deep, layered discussion here about cultural values. We could talk about the role of race in attitudes about dogfighting, rural vs. urban sensibilities in the way we look at animals, why it is that this country is home to both a multibillion-dollar pet-pampering industry and entire subcultures built on cruelty to animals, why it is that an athlete's violence against dogs garners a sharper public rebuke than other athletes' far more common violence against women.
We could talk about the cult of celebrity and the cult of the athlete, how someone in Michael Vick's position has been getting his way since he was about 10, how nobody ever stood up to him and told him that he needed to check himself.
But we're not going to. We're just going to talk about what a knucklehead Michael Vick has been.
Vick made Pete Rose look like Albert Einstein here. He has thrown away a career that, even after six years of exciting and occasionally brilliant but overall frustratingly inadequate play, still counted as "promising." He has thrown away the millions he would have made over the rest of his football life, and the Falcons will be coming after some of the millions they've already paid him.
And for what? A dogfighting business. Interstate gambling and cruelty to animals. An enterprise that any idiot -- almost any idiot, evidently -- knows is flamboyantly illegal, that would wreck a professional career nearly instantaneously if uncovered, and that Vick and company took so few pains to hide that authorities collected enough evidence in a raid to get four guilty pleas in less than four months, which is almost fast enough to create a sonic boom.
I don't care about the cultural implications that I can't understand, being a middle-class urban white guy who hasn't been influenced by gangsta hip-hop. Culture can be overcome. If Michael Vick wasn't smart enough to say, "I wish I could do this, but it would cost me my whole career if I did, so I won't," then he just isn't very smart.
It really doesn't matter if his cronies were afraid to speak the truth to him. Some things are just obvious. Vick knew enough to always, except for that one moment when he flipped off a hostile crowd last year, put on a pleasant, smiling face and a charming persona when the cameras were rolling.
If he could figure that out, with or without some Henry Higgins putting him through his social paces, he could have figured out that electrocuting fighting dogs if they didn't fight hard enough, that killing them by slamming them against the ground or hanging them, that training them for the barbarous fights to the death in the first place, was going to end his football career and possibly send him to prison once it got out, and that it would get out.
Vick, who is from Newport News, Va., grew up poor in public housing. He had it rough, but anybody making excuses for him, claiming that he couldn't escape his upbringing, is indulging in the worst kind of noble-savage patronization.
What a rotten shame this is. Not because Vick might have turned himself into an effective quarterback someday and now he won't, but because of the stupidity, cruelty and waste of potential that has become the story of his young life.