A couple of years ago, I decided I wasn’t going to eat meat anymore. I also decided I wasn’t going to buy anything tested on animals, wear anything made from an animal, or buy anything that contained animal by-products.

If you’ve ever gone vegan or vegetarian, you know it’s a pretty big lifestyle change. It doesn’t happen over night. Generally, you need some help, and for that I turned to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – or, PETA. For a long time the organization was my one-stop shop for everything from information about cruelty-free companies to vegetarian recipes to petitions to stop animal abuse.

Given all that, one might think it was difficult for me to turn my back on PETA.

It wasn’t.

Back in January, I very quickly made the decision to stop all association with the animal rights group. In addition to being an animal rights advocate, I am also a mental health advocate, and was outraged when I discovered PETA Founder and President Ingrid Newkirk was using the stigma of mental illness – the stigma I’ve spent nearly half a decade trying to combat – to scare and manipulate NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell into refusing to allow a “psychopath” to resume his position as a role model.

Fast forward more than half a year: Vick is out of prison, has been signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, and seems to be on the path to getting his life back together.

“Good for him,” I said.

“Oh, hell no,” many others said.

It wasn’t really until numerous “Do you approve or disapprove of the Philadelphia Eagles signing Michael Vick?” poll started showing up in my Facebook stream did I really start paying attention to the number of folks on the “Oh, hell no” side.

After talking with several of my friends, the main reason seems to be: “He’s supposed to be a role model for kids.”

“Role model.” Hmm. There was that label again, and there I was disagreeing again, which led me to think maybe I needed to spend a little more time evaluating what I thought about Michael Vick and what it means to be a role model.

My conclusion?

I think – if he continues on the path he’s on and the things he says and does are sincere – Michael Vick is in a perfect position to be a role model.

Yes, Michael Vick screwed up – he screwed up in a huge way – but does screwing up automatically disqualify one for this “role model” status we keep talking about? If so, what kind of message does that send? That making mistakes – that being human – is never forgivable?

And what about all the things Vick is doing now to rectify his mistakes – you know, all the things he’s doing even after he’s paid his legal debt to society? His involvement with the Humane Society of the United States and its anti-dog fighting campaign, for example. Not everyone believes his actions are sincere, but at this point, who really knows? All we really know is that he’s doing them.

Guess what, folks: We’re human. We screw up. Chances are, your kids are going to screw up one day, and they might even do it on massive scales. If that happens, would you rather assure your child that he will get past it – that he’ll do what he must to correct it and then he will move on with his life – or would you rather say, “Sorry kid, but it’s nothing but flipping burgers from now on. Shoulda never screwed up!”

I’m thinking it’s probably the former, and if Michael Vick – after having served his time – is taking further steps to correct his mistakes and move on with his life, well…what part of that disqualifies him from being a role model? Not a single one of us is perfect. Isn’t having someone to look at and say, “Hey, this guy royally jacked things up but is doing better now and encouraging others not to make the same mistakes” a good thing?