Michael Vick became the target of our loathing for, essentially, taking animals and forcing them to do severe, life-ending damage to each other, all to enrich themselves and for the sport of others. Malcolm Gladwell basically asks the question, “how, exactly, does that differ from football or boxing”?
What he presents is preliminary evidence that shows a much higher correlation between people who played these sports for a long time and dementia. I say preliminary because the researchers haven’t explored all explanations yet. First, they’ve only examined about 16 brains (this can only be detected after death). Second, these brains all have something in common: they belong to ex-professional or collegiate football players.
This commonality introduces a potential bias. It may be that the genetics that cause these people to be big, strong, fast and smart enough to play this game also predisposes them to dementia. Or, it may be that all elite atheletes have this predisposition. Until a more rigorous study is done, involving a control group of non-atheletes and/or elite atheletes of other sports, nothing more than a correlation can be drawn, which is inconclusive.
Morally, of course, there is a huge difference between dog fighting and football or boxing. Humans make the conscious choice to participate (assuming no pressure from parents, which is probably a very naive assumption) and dogs don’t. Plus, dogs who fight are either killed in the fight or shot later while football players are given millions of dollars and lauded by fans.
But can we really say the future stars understand the risks they take when, at the age of 8 or 9, they start to suit up for their first practice? Do parents really understand what they’re signing their kids up for? If so, is the reward worth the risk? I suppose that’s up to each parent or individual to decide.
My wife and I have already decided our kids won’t play these sports, so it’s not an issue for us. But the article’s conclusion hit home with me. For those that don’t know, I’m a rabid BYU football fan. Before I started dating Heidi, who never really got into football, I hadn’t missed a single home game during my 4 years at the Y. The only sport I follow is BYU football.
Here’s the conclusion of the article:
“It had been known for eighty years. Boxers ran a twenty-per-cent risk of dementia. Yet boxers continue to box. Why? Because people still go to boxing matches.”
“There is nothing else to be done, not so long as fans stand and cheer. We are in love with football players, with their courage and grit, and nothing else—neither considerations of science nor those of morality—can compete with the destructive power of that love.”
So, why did Michael Vick force dogs to fight in his ring? It wasn’t because the dogs wanted to do it. I doubt it was because of the sheer enjoyment he derived from watching. My guess is, it was for the spectators who would pay the gate, gamble on the fight and make him more money.
And why does Michael Vick himself enter the dogfight day after day, potentially causing himself irreparable harm and putting the future of his family on the line? Is it because it’s so much fun? I’m sure that’s part of it. Is it because he is forced to? Doubtful. Or is it because he makes millions of dollars and lives a life he may never had been able to live without football, at least for as long as his life goes on? Bingo.
And who, ultimately, supplies those millions to him?
Frankly, I don’t care to say.