The release of Michael Vick into home confinement for the final two months of his federal sentence has started the 24-hour news cycle again as to his life outside of prison and which NFL team will take a chance on him going forward.
But before he can resume his football career, he must face Roger Goodell once his sentence is complete, and the court of public opinion will have its say after that.
Goodell wants to see “remorse” from Vick before bringing him off the reserve/suspended by Commissioner list. Remorse is not easy to define, and in Vick’s case, actions count more than words.
The current economic climate makes every season ticket purchase, each suite term renewal and all sponsorship contracts precious to NFL organizations. Image is everything to the league and its sponsors. Having Vick on your roster means you have to answer to all of those who put that money in your pocket. Protesters at training camp, and calls to boycott sponsors of the club will not sit well with fans or businesses. Coaches and teammates will say all of the right things, but they won’t like the distractions either.
This is not a third-string linebacker, a backup safety or a two-times-a-game fullback — it’s the most visible position on the field and by definition a leadership role in the locker room. Vick showed no leadership skills in his choices during his NFL career. He bankrolled and participated in a breeding kennel and dogfighting events from the time he signed his first pro contract until he and his cohorts were caught.
If it wasn’t for an unrelated drug bust of his cousin who lived in the house on Moonlight Road in Newport News, he would still be in the league -– and still fighting dogs. Never mind the other things that went on during the months prior to his time behind bars: the “flipping off” of fans in his home stadium after a loss, the water-bottle incident at the Miami airport, his positive test for marijuana use before his sentencing, etc. Bad choices, but they were always someone else’s problem in Vick’s world.
Vick embarrassed Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who gave him a $130 million contract, the Falcons organization that supported as a whole him through every incident, and the league that promoted his as one of its “faces.” Vick would never take responsibility for his actions, because so many either apologized for him or cleaned up his mess. He didn’t even want to admit to killing dogs in a polygraph test administered by the feds.
So with Vick getting back into life as a free man this weekend, he has plenty to think about as he starts his $10-an-hour construction job. And when his two months are up, the NFL and its teams will consider Vick’s future as well.
If I’m Goodell, my first question would be about Vick’s lying about his involvement in dogfighting during the weekend of the 2007 NFL Draft. The next is, “What do you plan to do with your life in the next year?” Hearing the answer, Goodell should tell Vick that he is suspended for the 2009 season for his actions in dogfighting circles over his entire NFL career from gambling on the fights to closely associating with those criminals who fight dogs in secret locations late at night. Goodell should then tell him that he has to show that he has truly changed, not just say it, and stay completely out of trouble.
No need to look for remorse in the eyes or in words from the mouth. If Vick is truly sorry, he should accept that opportunity and do good not only in public, but more importantly, in private, to prove that he has learned from his deeds.
Then, and only then, he can be free to return to interview for jobs with NFL teams for a leadership role he forfeited when he chose to participate in illegal activities over the years as a NFL star.
Some of the dogs from Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels got a second chance, including a couple that found their way to the Baltimore area. A second chance is also possible for the man who fought them for pleasure and profit.
His athletic skills on the football field were amazing to watch, but the opportunity to turn into a highly responsible member of society who speaks out against a culture that promotes and condones these acts could ultimately turn out to be Vick’s greatest accomplishment in life.