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Michael Vick and Cognitive Dissonance

I recently learned that cognitive dissonance is “an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously.” Thank you Randy Pausch and Wikipedia.

I love dogs. I grew up with dogs. Every time we lost one to some tragedy or another I was crushed for quite awhile. I hold the common belief that cruelty to animals is horrible and one of the most despicable acts a person can commit. So, it’s hard for me to reconcile these beliefs with the excitement I feel every time I see Michael Vick play football. The guy is, hands down, the most exciting player in the NFL right now – so, I guess it’s not that hard to reconcile after all. Apparently, the part of my brain that roots for exciting football is completely separate from the part that hates anyone who hurts an animal. Perhaps I’m very forgiving, especially when it’s convenient for my entertainment interests.

Removing all judgment from the equation, the Vick story is amazing and will probably be the subject of a 30 for 30 type documentary at some point. The quarterback was out of football for over two years, spending 21 months in prison. Convicted of a horrendous crime, which to the substantial dog-loving portion of this country, made him public enemy #1 for a time. The former millionaire also declared bankruptcy. He hit rock bottom.

Vick was reinstated to the NFL in week 3 of last season and saw sporadic playing time behind Donovan McNabb. Fast forward to 2010, Vick is dominating the league, statistically and physically, despite missing several weeks with a rib injury. Take a look at Vick’s numbers this year: 1,350 passing yards, 11 passing TDs, 4 rushing TDs, 0 interceptions (wow!), 341 rushing yards, 7.8 yards/rush, 115.1 QB rating (you’d probably never guess that nearly 10 points behind Vick in 2nd place is another surprise – Jaguars QB David Garrard). These numbers are ridiculous even if Vick hadn’t missed 3 weeks of the season. He is playing at a level far beyond anything we’ve seen in his career to this point.  I don’t think we’ve ever seen a rags to riches (prison to penthouse) story quite like this in sports.

If Michael Vick had returned to football and stunk it up, the story would be something along the lines of karma wins and we hope he learned his lesson. This story, as it is unfolding now, is far more interesting. Vick has a great chance to win league MVP. The Eagles look to be by far the best team in the NFC. The football fan in me says hooray for the criminal justice system and hooray for Vick and hooray for football. A man made a mistake and has been rehabilitated. He did his time and is repaying his debt to society – hopefully.

That said, there is a part of me that feels the need to rationalize how I can marvel at the success of someone who committed such heinous acts. I don’t know what to tell you. The story is just too interesting and the performance too exciting. I just hope that Vick is genuine in his statements of remorse and realizes what a great responsibility he has to right all his past wrongs.  In the meantime, I’ll sit back, enjoy the show, and deal with the cognitive dissonance later.

Photo by Ed Yourdon

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William W Barnes

Creating and evangelizing world-changing products. I like Lions and Cows.
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