So now the Michael Vick debate will begin all over again.
This is one of those sports stories—sort of like Brett Favre—that just won’t go away although the circumstances are entirely different. Favre hasn’t done anything criminal, he’s just like a lot of great athletes who can’t bring himself to say goodbye.
Vick’s story, as we all know, is a lot uglier than that. He was heavily involved (including providing the financing) in a dogfighting ring and, when first confronted with the issue by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, looked him in the eye and lied about it. My sense is that any remorse he feels is for getting caught and being forced to spend time in jail, not for the crime he committed.
The whole question about whether he should be allowed to play again in the NFL is one that I have wrestled with for two years now. There’s no doubt that everyone deserves a second chance in our society. He’s served his jail time and he may be suspended for a while by Goodell before he can even contemplate a comeback. Once he’s done all that, it makes sense that he should be allowed to try to play football again.
If you make that argument to me, I can buy it. But there’s also a part of me that says this: there are certain crimes you commit which disqualify you from returning to certain jobs once your time is served. A child molester isn’t likely to be given a job as a teacher; a murderer probably isn’t going to be hired as a police officer and someone with a felony drug conviction on his record isn’t likely to become an airline pilot.
There are other examples. Vick committed a crime of true cruelty. He wasn’t desperate for money or hooked on drugs, he simply chose to participate in an activity in which dogs were killed and tortured for sport. The question then is whether he should be allowed to return to a job in which he will again be a hero.
That’s what successful professional athletes are after all. They are cheered by thousands in the stadium and treated as heroes everywhere they go if their team is doing well. If Vick signed with a team and began leading them to victories there would be almost no fan of that team who wouldn’t forget everything that he has done. There would be a run on Vick jerseys in sporting goods stores and there would probably be a book and a movie: “Redemption—The Michael Vick Story,” not far behind.
I’m not sure Vick deserves that chance, I’m really not. Should he be allowed to come back and coach someplace, work with young quarterbacks? Sure. Play for millions in front of millions in the NFL? I just don’t know.
Of course what I think is moot. Vick will get another chance to play. Goodell might suspend him for four games eight at most, more likely four—but someone’s going to sign him. He’s only 29 and that’s just approaching middle age for a quarterback. While it may take him a full season to get back into playing shape again, the fact that his body hasn’t taken a football pounding the last two years makes him a younger 29 than he would be if he had played the last two seasons.
Whether he succeeds will depend on a lot of things. He will face a kind of pressure unlike any he has faced in the past. If he doesn’t play well, there will be cries right away to get rid of him because the baggage he will carry will appear even heavier if he isn’t the Michael Vick who seemed to be on his way to the Hall of Fame just a few years ago. He can talk all he wants about not wanting to discuss the past and you can bet at some point his agents will negotiate one of those softball interviews with ESPN that the network has made famous. Maybe he can study under Alex Rodriguez: “I was young and stupid.”
You might want to throw in, “unbelievably cruel and insensitive,” while you’re at it, Mike.
So, if we know Vick is going to play somewhere, sometime, the question then becomes, how do you respond to him when he trots onto the field? My personal reaction will be this: I don’t wish him any harm, but I don’t wish him any success either. I know he’s served his time and if the NFL chooses—as it will—to allow him to play I can’t argue, as I said, with the logic of that.
But I’d really rather not see Vick become a hero again. He deserves the chance to move on with his life. But after what he’s done, especially given that I don’t think he’s sorry about anything other than being caught, I really don’t want to see him succeed in the NFL again.