Michael Vick got out of jail yesterday. It wasn’t a cupcake jail, either. It was Leavenworth. Then again, Vick’s crimes deserved more than just a cupcake kind of jail. He deserved hard time, and that’s exactly what he served for the last nineteen months.
He’s not quite done paying his debt to society. He has to serve two months of home confinement before the government cuts him loose. That should be right about July 20th or so. Not so far away from the start of training camps in the NFL.
I’ve talked many times before about how the NFL talks tough, but rarely backs it up. The personal conduct policy has been in place for a couple of years, and we still have players who do dumb things and break the law. The latest two examples are Donte Stallworth and Plaxico Burress. The personal conduct policy has led to some lengthy suspensions, but face it, it was more PR than anything else. Rumors are flying that Pacaman Jones is going to get another shot. Stallworth and Burress (if legally available to play) will play. And Vick will as well.
I loved how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is talking tough, saying that Vick has to do this and that to my satisfaction before I let him back in. My guess is they will meet as close to July 20th as possible, with the league letting him back in shortly afterward. Not so long after that, some team is going to give him another chance. Vick may not see the $130M deal he once got from the Falcons, but he’ll be paid nicely, even if it isn’t right away. He’s 29 years old, still has a lot of athletic ability, and can help a team win.
And that’s all that matters.
The league talks a tough game. So do the teams. Rarely is that tough talk backed up. Winning is the most important thing in the NFL, and if you can help a team win – so long as you’re out of jail – you’ll get a job. Winning in the NFL also usually means more money coming into the winning team’s bankroll. In these economic times, that’s more of a consideration that you might think.
So Vick will get another chance. Some team will sign him. Some owner will put his arm around him at a news conference, claiming everyone deserves a second chance. That team will put up with whatever bad PR comes their way. Protests? The team will put up with those if they should happen (and they will at first but probably die down sooner than you might think). The payoff – wins and money – is worth the risk to whoever signs him.
I used to think that Vick should be the one guy the NFL made an example of, because of what he did. My senses were so offended by his crimes that I wanted him banished. Banished to play in the AFL or CFL. Just not in the NFL. I looked at the pictures of those dogs, the videos of dogfighting that were showed over and over again, and I wanted someone to pay.
Maybe it’s hindsight being 20/20, I don’t know. But I have backed off what I said in the Summer of 2007. Vick does deserve a second chance.
Whether it’s for PR purposes or not (and there will always be people looking at Vick with suspicious eyes), Vick seems to be trying to do things the right way. Neither he or his people have made any public comments about him coming back to the league just yet. He has already struck a deal with The National Humane Society. He will likely be a spokesman against cruelty against animals. He will likely do speeches on The National Humane Society’s behalf. He’s not going to sit at home and do nothing. He’s making an attempt to right the wrongs he committed, and I give him credit for that.
He’s also 29 years old. He’s had two of his prime athletic years taken away by his incarceration. Those that want the NFL to tack on a season-long suspension for Vick (and two years ago I was one of them) are just looking to pile on. That would be overkill, and again, I say that admitting that in 2007 I was advocating for Vick to serve an NFL mandated suspension on top of his jail term. Vick doesn’t have ten years left in his career. Most quarterbacks don’t play until they are 39. And, when you have a player like Vick, whose game is more his legs than his arm, you have a player that the NFL will discard as soon as he starts to slow down – even if it’s just by a step. He’s lost two years. A third might effectively end his career.
Michael Vick is no angel, that’s for sure. But there are plenty of players in the NFL that aren’t angels. Vick has a chance to show some of the young guys who might be traveling down that wrong path that it isn’t worth it. He can be a mentor. He can actually save some players from ruining their careers, maybe even their lives, by taking them under his wing. But he can’t do it if the NFL keeps him on the outside looking in.
If you think about it, Vick might be more effective by his mere presence in the league than their personal conduct policy. Maybe some young guys will look at him and think to themselves “If I’m not careful I could lose everything just like he did.” Vick is a live human being. The personal conduct policy is a bunch of words in the NFL employee handbook that probably isn’t read by the majority of players. The live human being will have more of an impact, trust me.
Michael Vick has paid his debt to society. It took me two years to realize it, but I did.
Michael Vick deserves a second chance. Here’s to hoping he does more with his second chance than he did with his first.