Column: It's a dog's life

Michael Vick furthered the current trend of irrational athletes with the world at their disposal by pleading guilty to federal dog-fighting charges on Monday. With his three co-defendants already entering guilty pleas and PETA breathing down his neck, Vick finally succumbed to the inevitable and admitted his role in an activity shunned by our nation.

Although this case involved a superstar athlete, the actions committed were neither unique nor unco mmon. Americans are exposed and told of this cruelty on a daily basis. So why has this case, like those involving athletes before him, intrigued the public so intensely?

The simple answer is that we admire our athletes. We take them in as our own, and just like our family and loved ones, we give them endless opportunities to recover and thrive. We invest part of ourselves in their success, and when they fall short of our expectations, we feel as if we have all failed. But what have we failed in?

And though there has recently been a plethora of criminal charges against professional athletes, they have only followed the trend of American culture. Since 1970, crime in America has increased. Our communities are generally less safe and we have almost as many convicts as college students. Why, then, were we so distraught when Kobe Bryant was accused of rape or O.J. Simpson was on trial for a double homicide?

The harder answer to these questions is that America loves, demands and necessitates heroes. We are no longer capable of looking toward law enforcement officials, teachers, doctors or parents as role models. Whether due to misguided priorities or an evolution of principles, teenagers no longer dream of philanthropic times, but instead hope for a fruitful and prosperous future. Our athletes consummate this image, and in return, we unfairly put them on a pedestal for many to admire and for more to critique.

Once upon a time, we were able to shield ourselves from these regrettable truths. But with the advent of reality television, sporting news Web sites and ESPN's endless coverage of the NFL training camp, the ones we admired most could no longer hide their flaws. Is it their fault? Of course, just as we are responsible and liable for our own actions, athletes are legally accountable for theirs. But at what point did we decide that the NFL pre-season is more important than the War in Iraq or issues in our own country?

It is not the egomaniac athletes like Terrell Owens that led this radical movement but rather the fact that we are bored with mediocrity. To serve our family and nation is no longer glamorous. Instead, playing a game for fame and riches has become the epitome of the American Dream.

When we look at the failures of our society and our athletes, we must remember that sports are just games, and though they have the unique capability of shielding us from reality for a couple hours, these games are simply fiction disguised as truth.

So as Michael Vick's career and freedom sit in peril and public scrutiny controls the media, remember two things: Vick is the only quarterback to run for more than 1,000 yards in a season and that, as of Monday morning, 3,707 American soldiers have died in Iraq.

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