Some of us in New York have the unfortunate burden of being Jets fans. The New York Jets were a great team sometime more than 40 years ago. Like the Knicks and Mets, they have made it their modus operandi to find new ways to break their fans’ hearts. They have been described as more of a media circus than a football team. It is often remarked that J.E.T.S. means “Just End The Season.”
The news this past weekend that the New York Jets have given up quarterback Mark Sanchez for Michael Vick will be sure to continue the Jets’ reputation for making foolish moves. This is the same team and coaching staff that paid handsomely for Tim Tebow, who became the NFL’s most expensive bench warmer.
The Vick hire has already brought shrieks of horror from animal rights activists, moralistic sports haters and even decent human beings. The Jets made the announcement on a Friday night, when news is likely to get the least amount of attention. Since returning to football, Vick has been the subject of the most invective aimed at a sports figure since O.J. Simpson got away with murder. And Vick didn’t get away with his crimes.
That’s not to say that the continued campaign against Vick is without merit. Michael Vick is every bit as bad as his harshest detractors say. He heartlessly tortured and murdered defenseless animals and his dumbly parroted apologies in the intervening years convince me that he’s only sorry he got caught. If there’s an afterlife, Vick will spend eternity being torturously gnawed at by Rottweilers with AIDS.
But there are a few things that stand out in the endless Vick hatred that the Jets have stirred up again. One is that there are much worse people still playing professional sports today that do not create half the controversy that rightfully follows Vick. The NFL employs rapists and murderers and thugs of every stripe.
One of the rapists that had a home in the NFL until just now was Mark Sanchez, the Jets quarterback that Michael Vick is replacing. It escaped the ire of football moralists that Sanchez was arrested for raping a woman at the University of Southern California while he was a student there, though charges were never brought. There has been no exodus of people from Pittsburgh Steelers fandom on account of their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, being a serial rapist. Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens is a murderer of people and went on to become a Super Bowl MVP.
The second thing to take note is that the era of the celebrity hero is over. It is hard to face the reality that people we admire for their skills or accomplishments can be bad people. The sports world brings this into focus for us many times over, but the same is true for any celebrated line of work. It’s unfortunate that Lord Byron likely knocked up his own sister and that William S. Burroughs shot his wife to death, but that doesn’t make their writing any less influential.
So I won’t stop being a Jets fan. When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, from your first scoreless half to your last fumbled play. I’m used to rooting for a losing NFL team and over needing to like professional athletes. Being a New York Yankees fan, I have read some of the horror stories of how Joe DiMaggio would treat fans. Was Billy Martin a homophobe or a racist? Who cares? No one hired him to sing “Kumbaya” to crack babies; they hired him to play and coach baseball. Baseball’s current home run record holder, Barry Bonds, is such a despised human being that his own teammates could barely bring themselves to congratulate the slugger on his accomplishments.
We can rightfully revile sports figures all we want, but ultimately they will be judged by what they do on the field of play. The New York Jets long ago gave up trying to recreate the magic of being heroes to anyone. Now they just need to win football games.
Several years ago, while visiting the tourist sites in Manhattan around the holidays with some family, we were walking on Central Park South after a stop at The Plaza. As we passed by the line of hansom cabs, my Grandmother remarked that she had never taken a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. My father set about rectifying that at once, and a few minutes later they were on their way in a horse-drawn hansom cab.
My dad’s spontaneity and love for our grandmother was admirable and made the day more memorable. If he visits New York next Christmastime, he may not be able to take a hansom cab ride.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged, days before his recent inauguration, to do away with the hansom cabs.
Animal rights activists, including the predictable coterie of celebrity actors, have long denounced the horse-drawn carriages as manifestly cruel. They’ve been aiming to have the carriage rides outlawed for a long time.
De Blasio was inaugurated with much fanfare from his liberal supporters who are happy to see a Democrat in office once again.
But doing away with the horse-drawn carriages is foolish pandering to a lobby polluted with fringe players and the loss of a fine tradition and lots of jobs. Cruelty to animals is terrible, but animal rights activists are never too far away from taking a hard left turn to crazy town, and outlawing horse-drawn carriages is a fringe activist power-grab that a mayor is supposed to be wide enough to sidestep.
The New York City Police use horses regularly, and there are a few stables that offer horseback riding within the five boroughs. Space for horses is hard to come by in most of New York, but so is space for anything.
Being generous and assuming for the sake of argument that conditions for the horses are bad, the solution is not to outlaw an industry but to improve and regulate the care of the horses. It’s not wrong to use horses to pull carts. It’s OK to ride horseback and it’s OK to ride an elephant and a camel. There are lots of animals that are not suitable for riding, but horses are alright. This is actually common knowledge and the fact that there’s a serious debate over banning the industry shows how a more extremist animal rights community has been successful in framing the debate. Luckily the carriages won’t go without a fight.
What’s more, de Blasio is potentially putting hundreds of working-class New Yorkers, whose Teamsters Union endorsed him, out of work. For a politician who came into office on a platform of fighting for middle and working class New Yorkers with the nebulous pledge of ending “inequality,” putting hansom cab drivers out of work is the political equivalent of crapping in an inaugural ball punch bowl. Mayor de Blasio likely knows this, so hence the announcement during the holidays and before the hullaballoo of his inauguration.
There have definitely been drivers who overworked or abused their horses. One driver was even arrested for animal abuse when found to be working a horse that had an infected hoof. But the carriages are regulated and inspected and have been under significant scrutiny for years.
If we let animal rights activists start calling the shots, we’ll start on a slippery slope to becoming a city of pathetic vegetarian tree-huggers.