Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Michael Vick rubs animal lovers the wrong way.

(Posted this on my website on May 22)

Pro footballer Michael Vick had barely been released from prison when word began to circulate that he was angling to be a spokesperson for the Humane Society. If it happens, it will be a very risky play for the Society. Vick, you may recall, served time for dog fighting.

The reaction to the news, at least the commentary I’ve encountered online, has mainly been disbelief and disgust. People are apoplectic that the Society would consider working with Vick at all. Certainly Society president and CEO Wayne Parcelle has expressed doubts about Vick’s intent. But it does appear that he and his colleagues are keeping an open mind about this, at least for now.

I’m guessing that the Society feels that Vick can help reach out to people who engage in or see nothing wrong with dog fighting. Perhaps Society reps believe that this partnership will also translate into increased public awareness of the important work it does. Maybe there’s a willingness on their part to give a disgraced individual a second chance.

Even so, it does raise some questions for me, and I wonder if Society reps asked themselves these questions. Does Vick have the cultural cachet to make a difference? He’s been out of the public eye for the better part of two years, which is a very long time in an era in which celebrities have increasingly short shelf lives. Could he backslide? Maybe not, but if he were to engage in any other actions that were viewed as questionable, it would hurt the Society by association.

Even so, the main question on my mind is whether Vick’s good work could possibly outweigh the potential damage to the Society’s brand among supporters and donors? The early commentary I’ve seen suggests it is unlikely. There is genuine resistance that could easily become a movement through social media channels, possibly prompting people to withdraw financial and volunteer support from the Society. That would jeopardize the Society’s reputation and ability to prevent animal cruelty, such as dog fighting.

That Vick could be a spokesperson for the Society is not such a stretch of the imagination. There have been instances where people have become effective campaigners against questionable behaviour and beliefs, such as individuals who have quit hate-based organizations. If Vick is genuine in his intent, if he has influence, he could make a difference. But I doubt he will get a chance, and suspect the Society will suffer as a result.

It’s odd. Most of us want to believe that, if we need it, we can have a shot at redemption. We certainly seem to like such stories. Yet we tend to be skeptical when someone asks us for a second chance, particularly someone of prominence. So I have to wonder: If people prove unwilling to give Vick a second chance, will they also deny such a chance to the Society if this partnership damages its brand?

Does the notion of Vick as a Human Society spokesperson make you sick?

Let me know at mark@wordsworthinc.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment