What Should Become of Michael Vick?
Most of his victims are dead, drowned or electrocuted and tortured at the behest of Vick and his crew, or they were humanely put down, their injuries and upbringing too horrific to overcome. Some managed to survive thanks to saints from animal rescue facilities across the country. If there is any karmic justice in the world, Vick will relive his evil deeds every time he hears a dog bark or sees a tail wag. He neither deserves nor should he be allowed to come within a football field of man's best friend, ever again.
But beyond that, what should become of Vick? He is nearing the end of a 23-month sentence at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., for his role in a felonious dogfighting conspiracy. Scheduled for release July 20, Vick, like many prisoners who have sufficiently abided by the government's sentencing demands, could spend the final few months of his term at a halfway house. Barring any legal setbacks, Vick's attorney Paul Campsen expects that move to occur "sometime very soon." Vick will be required to work at "an approved job."
By August, Vick could transition from janitorial duties to the thick of competition at NFL training camp. Will it be with the New York Jets, the Oakland Raiders, the Minnesota Vikings? Vick is still under contract with the Atlanta Falcons, but general manager Thomas Dimitroff has said the team hopes to trade Vick, assuming there are any takers. The Falcons have found a fine quarterback and good citizen in Matt Ryan, last season's rookie of the year.
But first there is the very large matter of making nice with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Vick might have paid his debt to society, but that doesn't mean Goodell is inclined to immediately reinstate Vick, which is what needs to happen before any team starts talking draft picks with Atlanta, before his creditors start licking their lips over the $9 million he's due in 2009 (plus potential bonuses of $6.43 million), before the protesters pick up their signs.
Goodell won't review Vick's status until his legal obligations are settled. Presumably, that means we will have to wait until July to hear of Vick's professional fate, even if he relocates to a halfway house this month and starts working out with a broom. It is not a given that Goodell will automatically give Vick a reprieve, something Vick never considered offering his victims.
Like anyone with an ounce of humanity, Goodell is sickened by Vick's actions. But Vick's future hinges on far more than the cruel choices he made while running and financing the Bad Newz Kennels dogfighting ring. Though the terms of his plea agreement are nearly complete, and though Vick was a first-time offender under the league's Personal Conduct Policy, Goodell is said to be considering extending Vick's suspension because he was the key point man in an illegal gambling operation.
Gambling, in most any form, is one of the NFL's original sins, and even first-time offenders risk being banned for life. Vick admitted to providing the bulk of the funding for a criminal conspiracy in which blood-thirsty knuckle draggers placed bets on what innocent animal could most effectively, gruesomely kill another innocent animal.
I can't argue with those who believe Goodell has no obligation to show Vick mercy. Vick might have earned his legal freedom, but there is nothing in our constitution that says he has a right to work, or that his employer must take him back. Vick has already looked Goodell in the eye and boldly lied about not having knowledge of or involvement in the dogfighting ring, and he did not start telling the truth until the evidence against him was overwhelming. Goodell is under no legal obligation to give Vick another chance.
And yet we are a nation of redemption, a community built to believe sinners can turn around their lives. If Goodell decides Vick has kicked his problem with marijuana (the least serious of Vick's transgressions), and that he is truly sorry for his savage barbarity, and that, most important, he will never again place a single bet on even cockroaches racing, it is good enough for me.
Others, understandably, need some convincing. Animal rights groups have morphed into some of the nation's most influential lobbying groups, and their affiliation with sports teams is powerful. Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States, says that while his organization believes "in redemption - that people can turn around and do better when it comes to dealing with animals ... Vick has never publicly apologized to the actual victims of his crimes, nor has he spoken out against dogfighting since being sentenced for his crimes. Therefore, The HSUS cannot at this time support Michael Vick's reinstatement to the NFL. We will only reconsider our position after he demonstrates -- through word and deed -- that he has changed for the better."
A spokesperson for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says PETA has no immediate plans to boycott teams that trade for or sign Vick. But that could change, depending on the path Vick decides to take. While the judge in Vick's trial ordered him to pay $928,073 in restitution for the "past, present and long-term care of all the dogs," PETA chief executive Ingrid Newkirk would like to see Vick be more pro-active by filming a television commercial or program urging dogfighters to get out of the game.
If he is smart, if he is truly contrite and a different man than the one who callously tortured and murdered dogs, Vick won't need to hire Alex Rodriguez' army of media advisers to avoid another avalanche of vicious publicity. A-Rod spent an estimate $1 million on crisis counselors, for all the good that did. Unlike A-Rod, we know the gory details of Vick's crimes, and they were far more horrendous than anything A-Rod did to his own body, by his own choice.
Vick is next up in sports' conga line. Who will get the first interview and how many times will the quarterback cry? Will Atlanta entertain trade offers, or will teams wait for the Falcons to release Vick and then pounce? Which ones dare touch him, which ones dare TALK about him? One day after San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary refused to rule out the possibility of acquiring Vick, the team Thursday emphatically stated they are not interested, no way, no how.
The safe, smart thing is to say nothing, until Goodell issues a decree from on high. Until then Michael Vick shuffles from the penitentiary to the halfway house, still unable to save himself.