By Shayne Lee

As Michael Vick was released from prison last week, pundits of every variety were hitting the airwaves. They were questioning whether the former star quarterback is truly repentant for his so-called morally reprehensible operation of a dogfighting ring.

In the spirit of this discussion, I would like to raise a basic question: What did Michael Vick do that is morally reprehensible?

Some of us forget that dogs are mere animals, and that animal mistreatment is as American as Apple iPods. Like Vick, most of us shamelessly abuse and kill animals.

Homemakers employ deadly rat traps and poisons to rid their dwellings of vermin. Chefs place live lobsters in pots of boiling water. Hunters shoot down animals in cold blood for mere sport.

In university labs nationwide, scientists inflict spinal-cord injuries on dogs and cats, inject rats with carcinogens, test dangerous drugs on monkeys, and do all kinds of evil things to guinea pigs in the name of scientific research.

Americans systematically exploit and kill animals - sometimes for scientific progress; sometimes for leather jackets, ham sandwiches, or horse-racing.

So why is one type of animal cruelty (dogfighting) more reprehensible than another (lobster-boiling)?

If you are a non-meat-eating, non-leather-wearing, non-shampoo-using, animal-rights activist for PETA, then it is not hypocritical to judge Vick for animal abuse. But the rest of us rat-killing, horse-racing, lobster-boiling, deer-hunting carnivores should take the planks out of our eyes before trying to remove the speck from Vick's.

Vick set up vicious fights between dogs. So what? Boxing promoters instigate fierce brawls between humans. Moreover, Ultimate Fighting promoters put men into octagonal cages to beat and choke each other into submission or unconsciousness, whichever comes first.

Vick lost millions of dollars in income, spent hard time in prison, and faced public scorn for actions that did not lead to the abuse of one single human being. In contrast, athletes who beat their wives or drive intoxicated often spend not a night in prison and endure little damage to their finances and reputations.

I think we have it backward. Let's give the federal prison sentences to athletes who harm humans by beating them or jeopardize their safety by driving drunk. And let's give slaps on the wrist to animal abusers.

I'm confident that the post-prison Michael Vick will be coached well to show a contrite spirit and say all the right things to win back his fans and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

But if Vick is guilty, then we are all guilty.

So, for the next reporter who judges Vick's dogfighting morally reprehensible, I have one question: How do you like your steak?

Shayne Lee is an assistant professor of sociology at Tulane University. His e-mail address is slee5@tulane.edu.