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After the Fight

Recently my wife and I watched the documentary The Champions (2015) which is about pitbulls under the guise of being a movie about the dogs rescued from Michael Vick's dog fighting ring.

Illustration of using pitbulls around bulls, the task they were bred for.

This is an okay documentary about how many of the dogs rescued from Michael Vick have gone on to find better lives despite their emotional scars. It also veers into talking about other people's pit bulls and breed specific laws around the country in a bit of a tangent.

I have an issue with this documentary that the only interaction with Michael Vick is a very short, sloppy phone video encounter where he wasn't aware he would be talking about the dogs and someone in his entourage says "we don't care about the dogs" in a context that could be taken in a few different ways. The movie doesn't mention that Vick went to prison for his crimes, and that since coming out of prison he has worked with several animal rights groups to raise money and awareness to stop dog fighting and abuse. He has also done a very good job at talking about his experiences and how he had to break from a culture of dog fighting that he grew up in to see things from a different perspective.

The documentary has the viewpoint that dogs can be rehabilitated but humans cannot. I have been troubled by people who do not accept attempts to make things right. I recall seeing a game that he was in where there was a segment about him apologizing, talking about his punishment and wanting to make things right and the reaction from one viewer was that nothing he could say would make things right. The attitude was that nothing short of losing all livelihood (which was funding his restitution) and the death penalty (which is only legal for competent adults found guilty of capital crimes) would be punishment enough.

This movie could have succeeded so much more by showing the ways that Vick has attempted to rehabilitate himself after his punishment to try to make things better for dogs, rather it seems to posit that the only suitable punishment would have been indefinite detention. Obviously, dog fighting and animal abuse is a terrible thing, and I don't want it to be construed that I approve of Vick's actions, or that the culture of dog fighting is a culture worth protecting, but that the means of his punishment seems to have worked based on his actions, regardless of a cell phone video of an entourage member vaguely implies.

I am reminded of a video MSNBC and Southern Poverty Law Center made a few years ago of a former white supremacist who was having his tattoos removed after he had left the movement. He could have been punished more for his actions, thrown away and condemned, but it's a greater statement and a greater change for a person find their errors and want to change.

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