As 2011 is only days old, I am currently enjoying what has thankfully become a yearly tradition around my neck of the woods: studying NFL.com’s standings list for hours on end to properly analyze the dizzying array of scenarios that can occur in the week 17 match ups and how each one will or won’t effect my Philadelphia Eagles. The freight train was momentarily derailed by a blizzard induced rarity of a Tuesday night game, a loss at the hands of the suddenly and inexplicably energized Minnesota Vikings, but I expect it will be barreling full speed when the playoff whistle blows.

All is not well in Eagle land, however. It seems that yet another right wing pundit has taken aim at an Eagles quarterback. Granted, Michael Vick is a far easier target than Donovan McNabb, given that we’re comparing a convicted felon to a model citizen, but the scope of the criticism is far greater this time around. Rush Limbaugh’s curious and misguided ramblings about McNabb being overrated due to race in 2003 were dismissed almost as quickly as was he from the show on which he stated them. No harm, no foul. McNabb handled the controversy with ease and Limbaugh got some copy out of it, and at the end of the day it was decided that Sunday mornings on ESPN should be more about fantasy updates and less about contrived and biased social commentary.

The comments Tucker Carlson made in regards to Michael Vick are far more damaging, and far more difficult to shrug off as fair game punditry. In literally the same breath that Carlson reminds the panel that he is a Christian and believes that everyone is deserving of a second chance, he contradicts himself by stating that Vick should have been executed for his crimes, which included running a dog fighting ring on his Virginia compound. Being handed one of the biggest penalties for animal cruelty from a financial standpoint in American history and spending two years in jail is apparently not enough for Carlson. It goes without saying that his comments were exaggerated to accentuate the severity of Vick’s crimes, thereby adding fuel to his attack on President Obama. Earlier in the week Obama had the audacity to make a call to congratulate Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagle’s owner, on the team’s success and to thank him for taking a publicity hit to give a man released from prison another chance in life. Criticizing Obama is certainly nothing new for Carlson, but essentially calling for another man’s life in the process is completely inexcusable and has no place in our political arena. That’s the easy part. But wait, there’s more: I don’t think what Michael Vick did, relative to American culture and its attitudes to animals of all species, was all that bad.

Time to let the cat out of the bag (and to stop with distasteful puns): I am an animal lover first, a dog lover second. I was a vegetarian for a decade and although I now include some meat in my diet, I am conscious of what I eat and how it was treated. No kobe beef, no veal, virtually no fast food, and so on. I wear some leather. I do not feel I am a hypocrite because I am not overly outspoken nor am I judgmental of those that choose not to think about the misery and suffering that animals endure for our benefit. Those who are hypocrites are those that feel that what Vick spent two years in prison and lost untold millions of dollars for is any different or any less barbaric than what ninety percent of hunters do every weekend: kill animals for fun. Through striking the evolutionary lottery, the canine has escaped humanity’s wrath by appearing cute and providing companionship to the species that calls the shots on this planet. It is a sad inconsistency that such a highly evolved species as our own refuses to extend one tenth of the same courtesy to the other animals that get in our way.

One of my girlfriend’s closest animal companions (actually, third in line behind front runner Newton the dog and runner up Patrick the boyfriend) is a turtle named Moz. One of our favorite local watering hole’s menu includes snapper soup. Point being, who determines what animals are companions and what animals are at our disposal? Things get even worse if we look at it from a global perspective. China kills dogs by the thousands if there is a single case of rabies reported. Spain’s national past time is equally as cruel to it’s “contenders” as dog fighting, perhaps more so. Still, the United States is far from an animal friendly nation. What Michael Vick did is vile and barbaric, almost as much so as what goes on in factory farms across the country on a daily basis, and maybe only slightly more than sitting in a tree “appreciating nature” by shooting a deer and cutting its head off for a wall mount. If a hunter would like to contend that their “sport” is justifiable because they use the animal for food, I would be inclined to agree. My guess is, however, that a large percentage of the deer killed are done so strictly for the thrill of taking an animal down and that the venison never reaches the table, which is clearly and quite literally no better than anything Michael Vick did. Sarah Palin whacked a caribou on her weekly campaign commercial of a reality show, and you could almost hear Vick think to himself: “and that’s different how?”

I was no fan of the Eagle’s decision to bring Vick to Philadelphia, but my misgivings were entirely from a football standpoint. He was an unpolished and undisciplined quarterback in Atlanta, and had just spent two years in jail. It didn’t help that I was a huge McNabb fan; I just didn’t understand the point of bringing Vick in. As things have played out, the second chance Lurie gave Vick in life and the second chance Eagle’s Head Coach Andy Reid gave him on the field by molding him into an MVP candidate have the Eagles gearing for another playoff run. Critics, in between plates of wings, cheesesteaks and pulled pork sandwiches, are up in arms. One of Vick’s loudest local critics, Howard Eskin (AKA “The King of Bling”), while interviewing a few NFL analysts prior to the game on Tuesday night, referenced Vick’s “heinous crimes”. Eskin was wearing a fur at the time. He delivered his questions without a hint of irony.

I obviously do not think Vick is innocent. I do feel that he has paid dearly for his crime, and that if we view incarceration as an opportunity for rehabilitation, it is important that we allow people to resume their lives to their fullest potential upon release. It is understandable, however, that some of those in charge of doling out the opportunities in this country are hesitant to make a financial commitment to someone with so much baggage. When such a situation proves successful and everyone involved benefits from it, it is worth noting in hopes that it will help foster more success stories. This was the point behind Obama’s call to Lurie, but since Obama can’t use the restroom without being criticized by the right, Carlson took his shot.

When you keep in mind Vick’s cultural upbringing (he claims to have been at his first dog fight at a younger age than that which I was first allowed to cross the street by myself), it stands to reason that he will be able to asses the mistakes he has made and to turn his life around. It is certainly not fair to begrudge him any on field success he may have in the process, although there are plenty in Washington (and New York and Dallas) that would love to see him fail. Football fan or not, unless your are committed to a cruelty free lifestyle, you should be cautious in your condemnation of Michael Vick.

I do not know where Tucker Carlson stands on the issues I have raised. He may be a vegetarian that speaks out against puppy mills and deforestation in his free time, but I doubt it. Maybe I AM the hypocrite though, because I love it when the bull wins.

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