White House Confirms President Obama Praised Eagles for Giving Michael Vick a Second Chance


The White House is now confirming reports that President Obama praised the Philadelphia Eagles for giving convicted dog-murderer Michael Vick a second chance, but that he also stressed condemnation of Vick’s crimes in a phone call to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.

The subject of the call was Lurie’s rollout of alternative energy at Lincoln Financial Field, but the President’s comments about Vick are what’s getting all the attention. While some will use the remarks to falsely paint the President as an apologist for dog murder, Obama’s support for redemptive hiring is a matter of record. If there’s a valid criticism to be made, it’s that he may have failed to note that Vick’s experience is far from typical.

Based on available reporting about the call, the President doesn’t appear to have made such a notation, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t. In a statement to HuffPo, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton explained:

The President did place a call to Mr. Lurie to discuss plans for the use of alternative energy at Lincoln Financial Field, during which they spoke about that and other issues. He of course condemns the crimes that Michael Vick was convicted of but, as he’s said previously, he does think that individuals who have paid for their crimes should have an opportunity to contribute to society again.

As a chronic New York Jets fan, I find it tough to argue with anyone who wants to criticize the President for praising the Philadelphia Eagles, for any reason, ever. Hardly a day goes by when I must resist the urge to grab and shake a random Eagles-jersey-wearing neighbor and say, “You live in New Jersey, ass!”

Still, in this case, the President is being consistent, and doesn’t deserve to take flak for this.

President Obama has expressed his support, if somewhat qualified, for giving ex-convicts a chance to rejoin productive society. At a town hall meeting in January, he was asked about ways to combat recidivism through employment. He talked about the George W. Bush-enacted Second Chance Act, but also discussed the need to balance the desire for redemption against the rights of the law-abiding unemployed: (transcript via The White House)

If I’m a business owner, and I’m saying to myself, right now the unemployment rate is 10 percent, so there are a whole lot of folks who have never been to jail who are looking for a job — it’s hard for me to say, I’ll choose the guy who went to jail instead of the person who never went to jail and has been laid off.

This consideration is starkly absent from the calculation involved in hiring Vick, a phenomenal athlete who probably has no law-abiding equal. The Eagles’ decision to hire Vick was not an altruistic blow for redemption, but rather, a risk taken in the name of self-interest.

Still, as the President goes on to say, the notion of second chances is a deeply American value:

Now, having said that, what is also true — what you say is exactly right, that if we can’t break the cycle, then all we’re doing is just churning folks in a revolving door — through the jail system, back on the streets, back to dealing drugs, back to — and this is part of my faith, my religious faith, but you don’t have to be religious to, I think, believe in the idea of redemption, that people can get a second chance, that people can change.

To the extent that the Eagles’ hiring of Vick seems to support that notion, the President was not wrong to bring it up. He could have also urged the Eagles to apply the same level playing field to hiring decisions lower down the food chain, ones from which they don’t stand to benefit so greatly. However, his statements, as reported, are entirely consistent with his past rhetoric on the subject.

Here’s the full video of the President’s response to that town hall question, from CNN:

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