Regarding Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles

Last night I learned that Michael Vick, a convicted animal abuser, had been signed to a 2-year contract to the Philadelphia Eagles.

I’m from Philadelphia, and I’m a lifelong Eagles and Phillies fan. I’m also a Buddhist vegetarian with a daily Mindfulness and Metta meditation practice.

At first I was as surprised as any Eagles (or NFL) fan to learn about the contract. The Eagles are taking a big gamble with their fans and their team. But it’s an action that I support — not despite — but because of my perspective as a Buddhist NFL fan.

Surprised? That’s what I figured.

Allow me to explain, referencing an old Buddhist story about a ruthless killer named Angulimala. Angulimala starts out as a highway murderer, and later takes up residence in a forest near a village, killing people as he pleases. He encounters the Buddha and is transformed from a serial killer into a monk. Eventually, through practice, he attains enlightenment. He gains some trust from the villagers near the forest where he lived, but a resentful group couldn’t forget that he was responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. They attacked and mortally wound him with sticks and stones.

With a bleeding head, torn outer robe and a broken alms bowl, Angulimala managed to return to the monastery. The Buddha encouraged Angulimala to bear his torment with equanimity; he indicated that Angulimala was experiencing the fruits of the karma that would otherwise have condemned him to hell.

Buddhists believe that the effects of one’s actions are inescapable. Just as Angulimala paid a price, Michael Vick will have to live with the consequences of his actions, mistakes, and decisions. He will have to pay his own price, something we’ll never really know about, beyond his time behind bars.

None of us can know what inspired him to do the kinds of things he did. We don’t know how Vick was raised, or what values were (or weren’t) taught to him by his caregivers. These aren’t excuses for his actions, and it’s clear that he went very wrong at some point. He’s guilty of incredible cruelty against animals, and there are many people who won’t forgive him for that.

He went to prison for what he did, and now he’s out. He was suspended from the NFL, and now he’s back. He had no contract, and now — for better or worse — he’s a Philadelphia Eagle.

Vick had an opportunity to demonstrate the horrible things he was capable of. But I know from personal experience that people are capable of deep, profound inner change. You’d think that this experience gave him a chance to learn some big lessons, and I really hope he has. Like the Eagles, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, and an opportunity to prove it.

It might be the only opportunity he gets to show the world what kind of positive things he’s capable of.

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