Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has been indicted on federal charges of dogfighting and conspiracy. It is my hope that while this case is attracting passion from many people, that those same people will take deep breaths, step back, and let the process work itself out.
Dogfighting is barbaric. Nobody disputes this. It is a sick, twisted, disgusting, vile activity, and I wish that those involved would be subjected to the same fate as the animals.
My interest in this case is not about the animals. My passion is the National Football League. I will be the first person to admit that if an NFL player was not involved in this story, I might not even know about it. I will not pretend otherwise.
I have met Michael Vick. We did not speak, and my opinion of him as a person was neutral. As a football player, he is Superman. The Atlanta Falcons were perennial NFL doormats until he came along. To see a guy roll out, stop on a dime, and throw it 70 yards down the field for a touchdown, is breathtaking. The guy is a human highlight reel.
This does not give him a free pass to committ acts that are detrimental to society, but again, it is the main reason this story will have so much traction over the long haul.
I once remarked that Michael Vick “has the potential to be the greatest quarterback to ever play the game of football.” Maybe I bought into the hype, but his talents were apparent to me. One year he was injured, and missed the first 12 games in a season that is only 16 games. When he came back for a Sunday night game, the Falcons were 2-10. The stadium was packed to capacity, as if the team was 10-2. They were there to see him. The team finished 5-11, but again, winning three out of its last four games.
Now his multimillion dollar salary, his football career, and perhaps even his freedom, might be gone for good. If he is guilty, he deserves to lose it all. However, the process must play itself out.
What we do know is that a house that Vick owned did have dogfights going on. The house was painted pitch black, so that it would not be noticed at night, when most dogfighting takes place. Michael Vick has claimed that he did not partake in the dogfighting, but a confidential witness has said that he did.
Sports leagues are given wide latitude to handle most matters internally. However, the perception that professional athletes get special treatment has allowed courts to end the days when “self-policing” meant sweeping everything under the rug and denying that the problem exists (are you listening baseball?).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is in his first year on the job. He has yet to be Commissioner long enough to see an actual game. His predecessor Paul Tagliabue reigned over a golden age for the NFL, and rightfully deserves his treatment as a rock star by NFL fans everywhere. While Tagliabue zealously guarded the league’s image, the last couple years has seen some tarnish on that golden reputation.
Roger Goodell is the new sheriff in town, and the sheriff is cracking down. He wants law and order, and no player is above the league.
I met Roger Goodell twice, at the NFL Drafts of 2006 and 2007. When I met him this year, I spoke to him for about 2-3 minutes, which was significantly more than any average Joe should expect from the Commisioner of the hottest sports leage in America. I told Mr. Goodell that I loved the NFL, but did not want to see the game tarnished. He said he felt exactly the same way, which was why he was taking drastic action towards players that violated the NFL’s conduct policy. He had already handed out severe suspensions to players that in the past might have gotten off with a wrist slap.
What was very heartening was that the overwhelming unmber of fans at the NFL Draft agreed with the tough crackdown. They praised Goodell, which goes against the stereotype of win at all cost fans. Goodell listened to every one of them, taking several minutes out for one fan in a wheelchair. This was done while the cameras were nowhere near him. Goodell understands that doing the right thing for the league benefits everybody. This Vick incident will be a tough test.
The NFL Conduct policy has come under scrutiny as well. It states that a player does not need to be convicted of a crime to be punished. Accusations and patterns of behavior would be sufficient. While many have said that this violates the U.S. Constitution and the right to due process of law, the NFL is a private entity. Nobody is entitled to play football. The NFL cannot have a policy that is looser than government laws, but they can have one that is more strict.
Yet just because something is legal, that does not make it moral. What happens if Michael Vick, or any player for that matter, is suspended, and then found not guilty? The life span of a football player is short, and declines rapidly at the end. Time cannot be reversed. Also, what about the other players on the Falcons? They did nothing wrong. Players want to win championships, and the chances of the Falcons winning a Super Bowl without Michael Vick are slim to none.
Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons, is cooperating fully with the league. He was prepared to suspend Vick for four games. The league, aka Mr. Goodell, has told Blank to hold off while the investigation is pending.
None of this is news, but behind all the stories is a young man who’s life is at stake. Before we burn him in effigy, we had better make sure the legal ducks are in a row, and that row is perfect. God help us if an innocent man is convicted.
I admit being biased. I want Michael Vick to be innocent. The NFL will survive without him, but he is electrifying to watch. The deeper worry I have is the analysis of what type of human being I want to be. I love the NFL, but am very hesitant to pass it on to my children. It is a brutal, violent game, and lately that violence has spilled beyond the field, which has been to the detriment of society. If leatherheads like me who spend Sundays analyzing x’s and o’s do not pass the game on, then the game dies.
Although some have spoken about overzealous district attorneys, this is wishful thinking. Yes, some defendants do get “Nifonged.” Yes, a district attorney can indict a ham sandwich. Yes, some district attorneys just want to get their names in the paper. Putting all of that aside, most district attorneys value their reputations and their jobs. Too many defeats, and they get fired. If this district attorney is like most of them, then we are dealing with a hard working individual that indicted for a reason. The case could be strong. We do not know all of the cards the district attorney is holding.
Also, if Michael Vick is a low level or mid level player, the district attorney’s goal should be to get the big fish, the people at the top. To crack down hard on Vick because he is a celebrity makes no sense. Whoever is leading this ring should get the most punishment, and if Michael Vick cuts a deal and gets leniency, this is fair, and normal.
The only thing I know is that right now there is a lot that I do not know. We will be hearing barbaric allegations, and it will make people sick to their collective stomachs. Having said that, enforcement is a cold blooded process. Michael Vick is entitled to a fair trial. He should not be punished more severely because he is wealthy or famous. Equal treatment under the law is not a slogan. It is what keeps our society from collapsing.
It does not look good for Michael Vick. However, I will try to separate my bias as a fan of his during this tial. I hope that those who love animals or hate sports can separate their biases as well.
The rule of law is important. So are animals. Yet, so are children. To many young children, Michael Vick is still Superman. He is a hero. Their hero has fallen. For every kid today wearing a Michael Vick jersey who wants to emulate him, do not destroy their dreams just yet. Their fathers may have to tell them that a bad man did bad things, but we do not know that yet.
Michael Vick, as of now, is not a dog. He is a person. The dogs he allegedly abused were not given a fair chance at life. That does not mean Michael Vick should be given less of a fair chance to defend his life.
Everybody step back, and let the process work.
In September, I will be cheering for the Oakland Raiders, the silver and black. Right now there is a black cloud hanging over the National Football League, and I hope some silver linings arrive very soon.