Stop with the 'subculture' excuse for Michael Vick   

Updated: August 22, 2007, 4:15 PM ET

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Let's leave the greater meaning of the Michael Vick plea bargain to everybody else. Clearly, there are enough people out there with strong feelings about Vick vis--vis dogfighting, gambling, racism, cruelty, sentencing, image rehabilitation and the long-term implications of just about everything. They can proceed unabated.

Michael Vick

AP Photo/Dean Hoffmeyer

It's time to stop making any kind of excuses for Michael Vick's behavior.

I have an issue with just one word. Every time someone attempts to either explain or defend Vick, they invariably utter the same three syllables: subculture. As in, "the subculture of dogfighting," or "dogfighting is part of the Southern subculture," or "a subculture many do not understand."

The dogfighting subculture is apparently a subsidiary of the Southern subculture, which is itself a subsidiary of American culture.

By strict definition, the defenders and explainers of Vick -- Harry Edwards and Ray Buchanan were two I heard on Monday -- are correct: Three guys who hold up a convenience store are a subculture, the same way three teenagers who play pinochle with their grandparents are a subculture.

A religious cult is a subculture, a drug ring is a subculture, a quilting bee is a subculture.

And then there is a subculture of people who like to train dogs, then like to watch them fight while betting on them, then kill them by hanging or electrocution or drowning afterward. Yes, that subculture exists.

The problem is one of usage. The way I hear it, subculture is used as a justification, as if attaching the word culture -- in whatever form -- somehow imbues this activity with credibility.

In other words: However depraved it might be, you have to somehow respect it because it's cultural.

Nice try, but it doesn't work. Three weeks ago, I raised the issue of whether the NFL and Nike were being duplicitous by attempting to purge the marketplace of anything related to Vick. I felt they had profited from Vick's edgy image, perhaps knowing how unstable that edge really was.

But now that Vick has pleaded guilty and will go to prison for his crimes, the justifications and defenses need to stop. The people who justify and defend on the basis of culture are demeaning themselves in the process. Don't tell me about Leonard Little or Jamal Lewis, and please, please, please don't tell me everybody who eats a T-bone or a piece of barbecued chicken is as guilty as Vick because the meat-processing business in this country is as inhumane as Bad Newz Kennels. Spare us both the specious comparisons and the pieties, and see it for what it is.

And do yourself and us a favor: Don't tell us we don't understand the subculture.

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Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Sound off to Tim here.


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