Each year around this time, Forbes continues their annual tradition of releasing their list of the most hated athletes in America. And, like the annual tradition of that one uncle who gets too drunk at Christmas parties, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick once again topped the list.
After being released from jail over four years years ago for providing money to fund a dog-fighting ring, many fans have made it plenty evident that they still harbor resentment. After pleading guilty, Vick served 19 months in federal prison for his crimes. Many people, largely casual fans, know Vick for this and this only, viewing him as the man behind the dog fighting ring who now throws footballs for a living and probably still kicks dogs when he passes them on the streets. To the roughly 1,300 people surveyed for the purpose of this Forbes list, Vick is a monster who will never fully be able to repent fully for his past deeds.
Interestingly, a number of players with a history of crime have never even appeared on the list of the most hated athletes. On the Wikipedia page of Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Rothlisberger, there is a subsection devoted to “sexual assault allegations”. Rothlisberger was accused of rape in both 2008 and 2010, both accusations followed by lengthy trials, eventually resorting in out-of-court settlements and a four game suspension for “Big Ben”. Rothlisberger has never appeared on the list.
In 2009, wide receiver Donte Stallworth was driving his Bently drunk and struck and killed a pedestrian. For his DUI manslaughter, Stallworth served 30 days in prison. After he struck and killed a human being while driving 50 mph with a .126 blood alcohol level, there was little to no reprehension thrown his way from his teammates, fellow athletes, or fans. No one (publicly) came out to say that Stallworth “deserves to die”, as political correspondent Tucker Carlson said about Vick. Stallworth has never appeared on the list.
In 2008, wide receiver Marvin Harrison was surrounded by controversy in not one, but two shooting incidents involving the same victim. After fighting with a man and following him to the parking lot of a bar he owned, a gunfight broke out and the man was shot in the hand. He identified Harrison as the shooter to police. Though he denied involvement, multiple shell casings that matched the bullets used in the shooting were found near Harrison’s garage. Later, the district attorney was able to prove the bullet was fired by a gun Harrison owned. Roughly a year later, the same man was shot and killed a few blocks from that same bar. Again, as he lay dying, the man claimed it was Harrison who shot him. Later, Harrison claimed in an interview with GQ, that the gun used in the latter shooting, which matched the casings found at the scene, had never left his possession at any time. Harrison was never convicted, and has never appeared on the list.
I am by no means claiming that Vick is a saint, a model citizen or that what he did was okay. I was just as disgusted as everyone else when I found out what he did, but I have since accepted it. I am sympathetic with dog owners everywhere, I owned a dog myself. I tear up at the scene in “I am Legend” where Will Smith has to break Sam’s neck. But Mike Vick served 19 months in prison for his crimes. People should be given a second chance, and Mike Vick is one of those people. It is time for people around America to understand that Vick has served his time and should no longer be considered the worst man in sports. In a league formerly filled with drunk drivers, potential murderers, sexual deviants, and Tim Tebow, how is it that a man who funded a dog fighting ring nearly seven years ago can still be considered the most hated man in sports?