Michael Vick is back playing quarterback in the NFL. After a two-year hiatus (if you can call a prison term a hiatus), Michael Vick proves that we are a nation of forgiveness and a nation of second chances. Michael Vick committed a crime and paid the price. But his actions are, at least in part, a result of societal shortcomings born out of our nation's obsession with a sport so ruthless that its participants can become, quite literally, monsters.

Playing football at its highest level requires more than being able to jump like a grasshopper and run like a gazelle. It requires that you have an almost sadistic love of pain. You must be prepared to destroy yourself physically, mentally and emotionally every day.

Bone-crushing hits, broken limbs, bodies strewn across a bloodied field: the image of a medieval battle or simply a description of a game that has quickly become America's favorite sport?

Football trains men to act like animals. It trains them to lose control of who they are so that they may act with reckless abandon.

Before games, men huddle up and jump up and down, barking and hollering like a pack of pit bulls anticipating a kill.

We expect these modern gladiators to treat every game, every play, as if it were their last. We expect them to play with an intensity and anger so strong that they enjoy hurting their opponents. And then we expect them to be normal.

When NFL players end up on police blotters for assault, carrying weapons, or, in this case, financing a dog-fighting ring, we crucify them. We say with outrage, "They've been given so much and this is how they act!"

Michael Vick has served two years in prison for his role in financing and participating in a brutal, cruel sport. He lost his contract, his money, his home and his friends. He lost the support of thousands of adoring fans and companies, and now must spend the rest of his life trying to make amends for a wrong.

Some will say that Michael Vick deserves everything that happened to him. After all, Vick set up a dog-fighting ring that saw greedy men train innocent dogs to fight other innocent dogs—sometimes to the death. Winning dogs gained little from their achievements except the chance to fight again while, allegedly, losing dogs would be subjected to cruel forms of punishment bordering on torture. When they were no longer useful, they were discarded.

If we compare the actions of Michael Vick that led to his well-publicized, two-year prison sentence to the actions of the NFL and, in a broader sense, its fans, we will find shocking parallels.

The NFL is a fantastically successful business. It is a multi-billion dollar industry from which players are in theory receiving almost two-thirds of the league's gross income. In reality though, players in the NFL are given a short stick. Unlike other professional sports where players' contracts are guaranteed for the life of the deal, NFL players are at the risk of being cut a year or two into the deal because of injury or simply a team's lack of available cap space and only receiving their signing bonus. More players are chewed up and spit out in the NFL than in any other professional sport.

Furthermore, NFL players rarely escape their playing days without significant health problems.

A study on the post-playing days health of NFL players revealed that football players were at great risk of developing Alzheimer's and other dementia related conditions. Players 50 years of age and older are diagnosed with the disease at a rate five times greater than the national average. Younger former players between the ages of 30 and 49 experience dementia-related problems at a rate 19 times the national average.

Players who suffered physical injuries during their playing career are at greater risk for osteoarthritis, depression and accelerated mental and physical breakdown according to a study by The Center for the Study of Retired Athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Some would ask, "So what's your point? Unlike the dogs that were tortured in Mike Vick's dog-fighting ring, NFL players have a choice. They don't have to play football."

To them I would say, not so fast.

Does anyone really believe that men as naturally gifted as Michael Vick is and men who grow up in the conditions that he did ever really have a choice?

Michael Vick was one of four children. His mother worked two jobs and his father worked long hours in a shipyard as a sandblaster and spray-painter. Even with some financial assistance from Vick's mother's family, they still needed federal aid to get by. Michael Vick was blessed with a natural talent that forced him into football. Scouts told him how talented he was and dangled a promise of millions in his face. He grew up with just one option—save his family by playing football.

Michael Vick was taught that hurting other men was okay. He was taught that the stronger and meaner you were, the better you were.

Is it really such a surprise he wouldn't see wrong in having a bunch of pit bulls fight each other for his entertainment? After all, he fights other men every Sunday for the rest of America's entertainment.

We all love the NFL and we all hate animal cruelty, but perhaps we should take a look in the mirror—and at the NFL—before we rush to judgment on the actions of NFL players who, let's be honest, are often treated as no more than dogs in a fighting ring themselves.

Craig Hardt is a member of the Class of 2012.