My take on Mike Vick's "Return" ... from the 8/7 edition of The Real Views
Though many convicted felons endure the stereotypes associated with being ex-cons long after they have served their time and paid their debt to society, I’d wager that most Americans agree that if someone “does the crime and does the time,” then in most cases past sins can be forgiven.
Roger Goodell, of course, isn’t an average American. Nor does he appear to be one who has much faith in the humanity of people who make up the NFL.
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell has made waves in recent weeks by openly discussing sanctions of Michael Vick, including a suspension of as many as four to six games for the 2009-10 football seasons. This after Michael Vick completed a sentence of 23 months for federal dogfighting (conspiracy to organize dogfighting and animal torture) and stood poised to make his return to professional football this summer. Many teams, looking for a capable backup quarterback, or perhaps the next “Slash” were weighing the possibilities of signing Vick to a contract, were discouraged when Goodell was quoted as saying that he would consider suspending the quarterback for as much as a quarter of the season.
Consider the salary that Vick would command as a multi-year veteran. And now consider that any team who would consider signing him would do so because they needed his services immediately, this sanction would make him undesirable to virtually any professional football team. Combine this fact with the likelihood that whichever team enlists Vick’s services will have to be incredibly proactive in their public relations efforts, and one begins to wonder if any team will give Vick a chance.
Frankly, if 32 NFL teams looked at Vick and decided that his downside (he only completes 53% of his passes, has struggled running pro-style offenses, throws nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns) outweighed his upside (and you are supposed to tackle this guy how?), then fine, that would be the end of it. Even if teams truly believed, in their front offices, that the potential negative impact of giving Vick a chance would pose too great a risk to their images, they could attribute their decisions to many football-related reasons. Besides, can you imagine the vicious headlines Vick would not have to endure if in fact he did not sign:
First time Vick plays Cleveland and wins: “Vick Kills the Dawgs”
If Vick were signed by the Bengals: “Vick Wears Stripes”
If Vick were re-signed by the Falcons and went to a UGA game …
You get the picture.
But Vick, who appears for all intents and purposes appears to be contrite, if not reformed, and ready to move forward with his life is being denied this opportunity, in full, by Roger Goodell. The question is why.
Vick has made no shortage of mistakes, to be sure, from being involved with unsavory characters whose actions have reflected poorly on him, to unfortunate on the field behavior, as well.
But is his crime, as powerful political lobbies like PETA and the ASPCA would have us believe, unforgivable?
Is Goodell merely doing his job and protecting the brand of the NFL, or does he truly believe that Vick is incapable of being reformed, that somehow his sanction will be more impactful than a 23 month prison sentence and the loss of all freedoms associated with the superstardom Vick once enjoyed?
I get Goodell’s message, I really do. There is a difference between sanctions that a person faces criminally (23 months for federal dogfighting) and socially (likely, a lifetime of cajoling fans, boycotts, and general disdain) and professionally. Violate the strict terms of the CBA (the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement) and there are sanctions. And given Goodell’s self-imposed charge to rehabilitate the damaged brand of the NFL, those sanctions have been much more severe under Goodell than under past commissioners.
But is Goodell rehabilitating the brand one sanction at a time? Does he truly believe that he has more power to rehabilitate Vick with a four game suspension than the federal government possessed when it issued the 23 month conviction?
Does he not trust the owners’ of individual teams ability to successfully market and brand their own teams? If a team decides (this is the pro “let the marketplace determine value” argument) that they want to employ Vick and risk potential losses to ticket sales … or, cash in on the controversy by guaranteeing one of the biggest pre-season stories in the history of the NFL unfolds at their front door, then why should Goodell pervert that process?
Does Goodell think that he will be viewed as soft in the eyes of many fans if he does not impose an additional sanction on Vick?
Whatever the case, Goodell does not appear to have faith that Vick has been rehabilitated, nor does he trust the intentions of any team who would be interested in employing him, and this sanction may end Vick’s playing career. Some people think that’s justified, others argue that playing in the NFL isn’t Vick’s right, but a privilege that can be lost as easily as it is attained. Those people have legs to stand on in their arguments.
Vick’s legs, however, have been cut from under him by Goodell. A leg for a leg, perhaps.
If Goodell truly thinks that reinstating Vick threatens the NFL brand, or that his actions deserve sanctions more severe than the de facto two season suspension he has already faced, then so be it. He is the commissioner, he needs to rule accordingly and he could make arguments to justify those actions.
But if he is acting because he feels politically pressured by unforgiving fans and the political lobbies of animal rights activist groups, then he merely makes a feeble political placation at Vick’s expense, piling on rather than acting independently and ruling definitively as a commissioner should.
Simply piling on Michael Vick is an ironically cowardly move as a response to his cowardly crime.
 Nickname associated with Kordell Stewart, formerly of Pittsburgh Steeler fame, who was called “Slash” because he was a Quarterback-slash-Receiver-slash-Running Back.