With the start of Ravens’ camp, and with respects to the main story – the state of the receiver corps – the talk of the NFL on Monday was about Michael Vick.
We all know the circumstances of Vick’s crimes and punishment from the legal system. All that was left was the NFL’s position, one that commissioner Roger Goodell was careful not to tip during Vick’s prison time.
Goodell did not face an easy decision. Reinstating Vick in full immediately would have brought protest from animal welfare groups and pet lovers across the nation. Suspending him for the 2009 season, which was my personal choice because of his illegal actions over his entire NFL career, would have angered the NFLPA and those who wondered why Vick served more jail time than Donte Stallworth for DUI manslaughter.
It was not an easy decision for Goodell to make, or for Vick to accept. The flipping off of fans after a 2006 home game, the “water bottle” incident at the Miami airport were bad signs months before the dogfighting accusations came to light. Then, throw in lying to the feds on a polygraph and a positive marijuana test before his incarceration, and the NFL had ample reason to hit Vick hard.
But Goodell split the difference and put the weight squarely on Vick’s shoulders. If Vick becomes a model citizen, even with the protests and sure-to-be angry shouts at home, and especially on the road, he can make a difference. Vick can help put a stop to the dogfighting culture by speaking out against it to impressionable kids, including those the age he was when he first got involved – 8 years old.
But the catch is that kids that age won’t listen to Michael Vick in a business suit, who is either out of the game completely, or out for a year. He might as well be a ghost or a nameless politician. With a NFL uniform on again, Vick captures that young audience that idolizes him for his football exploits.
But that uniform presents a different issue for the clubs and fans. With his athletic talent, his signing would be a no-brainer for those looking for a Wildcat-option QB that would give defenses fits. But tucked away in an office overlooking the practice fields somewhere in an NFL city, an owner will think long and hard about what that signing would do for the bottom line in this economy. There is a real possibility of protesters at the club facility and at the offices of major sponsors, loss of season-ticket holders and the general disruption that having Vick would mean with media scrutiny and team security issues.
Many owners are pet people with kids and grandkids who all have opinions – as well as dogs and cats. And a man who treated Vick like a son, Arthur Blank, was betrayed by his quarterback’s actions. Blank has forgiven, but not forgotten in wishing Vick well – with another club. All of that will be considered before the owner in question looks at the general manager and gives the OK.
America lives for redemption stories. If Michael Vick takes his opportunity and uses his celebrity to stop the horrible acts he was a part of for so long, it will be a greater accomplishment that any Super Bowl title or Pro Bowl selection. He was a game-changer on the field the minute he started his NFL career. No matter how any of us feel about him personally after his crimes, he has a second chance to be a game-changer in society.
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