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Bailing on Oprah Will Dog Michael Vick

Feb 17, 2011 – 7:45 PM
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Kevin Blackistone

Kevin Blackistone %BloggerTitle%

Having driven his Eagles, down five points, to the Packers' 27-yard line with seconds left in their NFC wild-card game last month, Michael Vick refused to spike the football and regroup from the huddle.

Instead, he rushed under center, took the snap and threw to the end zone for Riley Cooper. Tramon Williams intercepted the pass and the Eagles' season ended.

That was Vick's poorest decision since resurrecting his football career and life after 18 months behind bars for running that illegal and cruel dog-fighting ring.

At least that was true until Wednesday, when Vick decided to turn down an invitation he'd accepted earlier from Oprah to appear on her show on Thursday.

If that was Vick's call, too, it is proof that his ability to think clearly was affected by all the hits he took last season in what turned into a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Sitting down with Oprah, after all, is about as close to being anointed by the Pope as one can come. I'm not spewing hyperbole. She was named one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century and the 21st, an honor shared with only three other people, Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates and Pope John Paul II.

And if Vick's decision to refuse Oprah was made by someone in Vick's corner, as has been suggested, it is proof that person is in over his or her head and should be, if not fired, at least ordered to take Professor Craig Garthwaite's Business Strategy class at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Business.

(Then again, that person evidenced not being smart enough to get accepted into Northwestern.)

"Anointing is the right word," Garthwaite told me Thursday in a telephone conversation from his Evanston, Ill., office. "When she (Oprah) picks a product, she either makes or breaks the success of it. It goes both ways, but she's mainly done things that have made products."

When she said she was worried about eating hamburger after an expose on the meat industry, cattle futures dropped.

"There was this sorbet, Ciao Bello," Garthwaite said. "She endorsed not just the product, but also one particular kind, the blood orange flavor. Ciao Bello had to redo their entire production line to deal with the surge in demand for this one particular flavor."

"There's a demographic that Oprah hits. ... It's probably not a group that is quick to warm up to Michael Vick after the trouble he's been through."
-- Prof. Craig Garthwaite
Garthwaite knows far too much about Oprah's Midas touch because he and Tim Moore studied it as PhD economic students at the University of Maryland after Oprah announced her support for presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008. Most pundits dismissed Oprah's endorsement as much ado about nothing because previous celebrity endorsements of political candidates resulted in little to no impact.

Garthwaite and Moore found Oprah's was different. They examined geographic variation in subscriptions to "O," Oprah's magazine, and the bump in book sales caused by a book being cited by her book club, and estimated that Oprah's endorsement of Obama moved at least one million votes to him in the primary election. Had she chosen to be mute, they argued, Hillary Clinton would have prevailed as the Democratic nominee.

"She has a way of making customers not just say, 'Oh, I like what Oprah likes,' but ... making people actually spend money because she says to," Garthwaite pointed out. "Even in the world of sports, she wanted to break the single-day record for the Live Strong bracelet when Lance (Armstrong) was doing those. She announced on her show that she would like her fans to do it. I think they sold like 900,000 in a one-day period.

"So in that sense it's hard for me to imagine why you wouldn't want to (go on her show)," Garthwaite said.

"There's a demographic that Oprah hits," Garthwaite said. "It's sort of relatively well-educated, successful white women in the United States. I have no evidence on this, but it's probably not a group that is quick to warm up to Michael Vick after the trouble he's been through.

"So if you could be on Oprah's show and target that market," Garthwaite said, "I can't see why you wouldn't want to do it."

Vick has a bunch of creditors to pay, too, and an uncertain immediate financial future in the NFL if labor negotiations shut down next season and cost him millions he would be scheduled to earn. Oprah's influence in the consumer market could open doors for Vick to win endorsement contracts. So not going on her show doesn't make financial sense, either.

Dallas radio show host Richard Hunter, who adopted one of the dogs abused in Vick's operation, claimed Wednesday that he and other owners of dogs rescued from the ring were the reason Vick backed out. He said they peppered producers of Oprah's show with phone calls and emails to include their voices in the show with Vick. Hunter heckled Vick in Dallas during Super Bowl week.

A Vick representative shot down Hunter's assertion in an email to The New York Daily News as "not true." Such a dismissal from Vick's camp was expected but Hunter's claim doesn't make sense anyway. Indeed, ever since Vick re-emerged in the public light, he's been asked about the heinous things he did to wind up in prison and has been subjected to all manner of hounding (no pun intended) at public events and in NFL football stadiums, including, at times, the one in Philadelphia he calls home.

Another explanation that made the rounds Wednesday was that Vick's camp pulled out of Oprah's show because Oprah and the new talk show import from England, Piers Morgan, last month bet each other 200 pounds (about $300) over who would get the Eagles' quarterback first. Vick's conviction was tied in part to illegal gambling and his camp supposedly wanted to stay clear of gambling associations.

I guess the only lines in NFL games demarcate yards on the field.

There was even a report that the Eagles didn't want Vick to appear. But why would a franchise not want its brand on the most-watched national daytime TV talk show hosted by a woman who not only starred in the film adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel Beloved, but is beloved?

"Oprah," Garthwaite said, "has an ability to sort of change the way people think about things."

Michael Vick is still in need of that change -- and he just fumbled away the easiest chance he may ever have to do it.
Filed under: Sports
Tagged: Michael Vick