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Can Michael Vick change his behavior?

Nearly two weeks ago, watching the Philadelphia Eagles play the New England Patriots in a pre-season game, I heard TV commentators talking about the newest addition to the Eagles roster: dog-murderer Michael Vick.

The news soon became official. The Philadelphia Eagles signed Michael Vick, the former star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons who just completed a 23-month sentence for running a dog fighting ring. Vick spent 18 months in prison, then served the rest of his sentence in home confinement.

Thousands of Eagles fans were outraged. “As a lifetime Philadelphia sports fan, I’m reeling from the Eagles’ signing of Michael Vick, justifiably the most hated man in sports,” wrote Dan Brown on the Huffington Post.

“I mean, the guy electrocuted, hung and drowned dogs. He only confessed to doing it after all of his buddies blew the whistle on him. He operated his Bad Newz Kennels dog fighting ring for six years.”

So who is this guy? And does he deserve a second chance?

Football star

Michael Vick is a certified football star. As a freshman quarterback for Virginia Tech in 1999, he led his team to an 11-0 season and an opportunity to play for the national title in the Sugar Bowl. After only two seasons of college football, he became a pro player, and was the first overall draft pick of the 2001 NFL draft, signing with the Atlanta Falcons.

According to Wikipedia, “Vick owns several NFL records, including the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season (1,039 in 2006), highest average per carry in a single season (8.45 in 2006), 100-yard career rushing games by a quarterback (eight), best two-game rushing total (225 in 2004) and rushing yards in a single game (173 in 2002).”

In December 2004, Vick became the highest paid player in NFL history when he signed a 10-year, $130 million contract extension with the Atlanta Falcons. The deal included $37 million in signing bonuses.

Almost three years later, the Falcons demanded that $20 million of the signing bonus be returned, contending that when he signed the deal, Vick knew he was engaged in illegal activity—dog fighting and gambling—which violated his contract.

Dog fighting

In 2007, officials found an illegal dog fighting operation on a property owned by Michael Vick in rural Virginia. Apparently, he’d been running an interstate dog fighting ring for six years. Vick was accused of financing the operation, handling thousands of dollars in gambling on the dogs and directly participating in the dog fights.

He was also accused of personally executing dogs that did not perform. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that Vick and his associates hanged, electrocuted and drowned dogs by holding their head in five-gallon buckets of water. In fact, Vick had to drown one dog when it wouldn’t die by hanging.

According to the report, posted on TheSmokingGun.com, Vick and an asssociate slammed a red pit bull into the ground several times, breaking the dog’s back or neck, until it died.

When Vick was arrested, he denied that he actually killed any dogs. But after failing a polygraph test, he admitted that he did.

How could any human being slam a dog into the ground until it died? He would have to have no empathy, like a psychopath.

More trouble

Is Michael Vick a psychopath? Not wanting to voice an opinion on the basis of one behavior, I went looking for other signs of trouble, and found them in a nice, organized list in the Wikipedia article about Michael Vick.

  • In 2004, two men were arrested in Virginia for distributing marijuana. They were driving a truck registered to Michael Vick.
  • In 2005, a woman filed a civil suit against Vick, alleging that he gave her genital herpes.
  • In 2006, after a Falcons loss to the New Orleans Saints, Vick reacted to fan booing with an obscene gesture.
  • In 2007, while free on bail for the dog fighting allegations, Vick failed a drug test.
  • Although he was earning $25.4 million per year through his football salary and endorsements, Vick’s finances were in a shambles, and in 2008 he declared bankruptcy.

But then there’s another question—is Michael Vick really a psychopath? Or is he a guy who grew up in the ‘hood, then got too rich, too fast?

PETA’s concerns

I wasn’t the first to wonder about this. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—PETA—sent a letter to Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the National Football League, expressing exactly the same concern.

The last USDA report also shows that Michael wanted losing dogs killed rather than given away and that he put family pets into the pit with the fighting dogs. Rather than showing remorse for any of the suffering or death that he caused, Michael laughed when he saw dogs torn apart. He also killed dogs by slamming them to the ground, which broke their backs and necks and caused them to suffer a particularly painful, slow death.

As we told his counsel, this behavior seems to fit the established profile of antisocial personality disorder, as set out by criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and it could change our willingness to support Michael further. In common parlance, people with this disorder are referred to as “psychopaths.”

Psychopaths lack the ability to put themselves in their victims’ place (i.e., to feel empathy), fail to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior, are frequently manipulative and charming, lie easily, take pleasure in the suffering of others, and have difficulty controlling their impulses. Cruelty to animals is a well-established predictor of psychopathic behavior.

As you know, Michael has broken the law multiple times, and his acts show aggression and a failure to recognize suffering in others. In addition, not only did he tell blatant lies to the NFL, he also lied on his polygraph, only confessing when confronted with the polygraph’s findings, which showed that he was lying. The USDA report shows his blatant lack of remorse before his involvement was exposed. That Michael claimed to be remorseful after being arrested does not change this fact.

The question arises about whether Michael can change. Unfortunately, the prognosis for antisocial personality disorder is abysmal. With behavior as aberrant as Michael’s, we worry that, despite our wish that it were otherwise, there is scant reason for optimism.

Should any doubt remain in this regard, a psychiatric evaluation should be arranged. It could include a structured, standardized test (e.g, the Psychopathy Checklist, developed by Robert Hare) and new brain-scanning techniques (e.g, those developed by Kent Kiehl) that demonstrate brain dysfunction. If Michael emerges from these examinations without evidence of psychopathy, that may help him demonstrate a capacity to change what has so far been the life of a man who takes pleasure in hurting and killing living beings who are incapable of defending themselves.

However, the repeated cruelty and aggression demonstrated by Michael strongly suggests that he is not the kind of person who should be offered as a role model. Severe and repeated acts of cruelty to animals are, of course, not what football fans, particularly children, need to think about when they see a football star, or buy a jersey or an autographed picture. Michael’s appalling acts of cruelty to animals will always be a part of his image. That will not go away. We look to the NFL for something very different.

60 Minutes

Michael Vick appeared on 60 Minutes on August 16, 2009. During the interview, he repeatedly said what he did was wrong. He claimed that while in prison, he cried about letting so many people down. He said he was disgusted with himself and deserved to lose his $135 million contract.

He said all these things like an automaton. I saw no real emotion.

In my opinion, the guy is a psychopath. I don’t think he felt any qualms about killing those dogs. But how much of his personality is genetic, and how much could be attributed to growing up in a public housing project in a crime-ridden neighborhood called “Bad Newz”? Are there any tiny seeds of empathy inside him that could be nourished?

Rehabilitation

As part of his “rehabilitation,” Vick is supposed to become actively involved in teaching urban youth that dog fighting is wrong. PETA may have reservations about working with him, but, according the 60 Minutes interview, the Humane Society is pressing forward. Maybe some of his message will get through—to himself.

Dr. Leedom has suggested that by doing good works, and consciously trying to behave empathetically, psychopaths may be able change some of the wiring in their brains that enables them to be so callous. Even if they don’t develop warm, fuzzy feelings for creatures great and small, they may be able to change their behavior.

Dr. Robert Hare has suggested the same thing. Psychopaths may never change through introspection or visualizing the pain their actions cause others. But if they have enough of an incentive, they may be able to control their behavior.

Michael Vick certainly has an incentive—football stardom and millions of dollars. So this is a fascinating case study—can he toe the line?

The whole world is watching him.



25 Comments on "Can Michael Vick change his behavior?"

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  1. Easy says:

    Vick is to dog fighting as Madoff is to ponzi scheems, Just the tip of the Iceberg!



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  2. OxDrover says:

    Dear Easy,

    GREAT ANALOGY!!!!



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  3. Easy says:

    Thanks OxD

    Greater is He who is in me then he who is in the world!

    It Has been a Long and difficult road but worth every pain-staking step! Thank God for Love Fraud!



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  4. OxDrover says:

    Dear Easy,

    I DO thank God for LoveFraud and for brining us all to where we are today—HERE!

    I have also come to believe that the challenges we face in life are meant to teach us something. Unfortunately, I was a difficult student and had to REPEAT classes over and over before I came here and got the messages loud and clear.

    I still have a LOT of learning to do, but where I am TODAY –NOW– is so far superior and so much higher than where I was only two years ago that I am suprised I don’t have a NOSE BLEED from the altitude. LOL

    My faith and trust in God to meet the challenges He puts before me is infinitely better than it has ever been in my life. My challenges led me to seek God’s wisdom, protection and trust in Him, and he has given me some of those things in a measure I could not have imagined, as well las PEACE and REST.

    I’m glad you are here, Easy, this is a healing and supportive place and not only do we get support here, but we get the opportunity to return that gift to others as well. (((hugs))) and my prayers for each of us on LF.



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  5. usedandabused says:

    Oxy beat me to it — just like OJ. People are nuts to pay $100 a ticket to see these guys, who cares how they can throw a ball or play a role. As long as owners know that people will pay anyway, they suffer no consequences and are laughing at their fans.

    When the Vick case was first publicized in 2007, I checked the US Court records and was amazed to find his plea agreement was not sealed. No news reports that I saw referred to it. He got off so light for this atrocious crime because he agreed to cooperate with the authorities in regards to any matter indefinitely. It was not limited to the dog fighting conspiracy.

    Disappointing that the government let him off with a short sentence in exchange for “cooperation” and it happens every day. Major dealers get a break for turning in a customer’s girlfriend why has no knowledge to trade.



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  6. OxDrover says:

    Dear Used, and the GF gets 50 years because she had no one to give up for a lighter sentence….so much for “justice”—I’m at least glad that OJ went to prison for something at least.

    Hopefully, vick will get caught for something else, because i would “bet the farm” he has NOT reformed. I’ve never known a P that did “reform” though a few do slide under the radar of the law. LOL



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  7. Stayingsane says:

    Vick is Sick. He is able to carry out acts of sadistic torture in society and call it SPORT and even have a catchy little title ‘bad news dog kennels’. What sickens me more than this FACT is the way we people want to believe he is a good person underneath. Some people are truly evil. This man in my opinion is one of those…with the psychopathic charm to imitate ‘being sorry’ when we all know all he had to do was mouth the words.

    What did he say about the animals he slaughtered in the name of entertainment. He enjoyed inflicting unimaginable terror and pain on a helpless animal, exploiting and using them to his own ends? if he could do this to a living feeling animal then just wait and see what he does to the human beings in his life…he is lost.

    He should give away his wealth to animals in need, I would perhaps listen to him then….



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