Thursday, May 21, 2009


It’s time for the obligatory Michael Vick piece!

Well, maybe that’s a bit strange. See Scribe usually doesn’t follow the blogosphere script in terms of writing about the salacious controversies as they happen unless there is something that must be said.

Wednesday's prison release of Michael Vick has inspired all sorts of opinions, but it’s the extreme sides of these thoughts that always get attention.

There are presumably millions of people out there who think that the former Virginia Tech standout hasn’t been punished enough for his crime. Nineteen months in the all-male, medium-security USP Leavenworth was some sort of slap on the wrist for someone who was a responsible party for the mutilation of animals for nearly six years.

There are presumably millions of people out there who think that the former Atlanta Falcons star (the team has his rights, but he’ll never suit up for it again) has not only served his penance, but should be afforded the same chances to gain his former standing in society as anyone else exiting prison. Jails were ideally built to not only keep the public’s gravest offenders away, but to possibly deter some of their inhabitants from ever returning.

There are presumable millions of people out there who think that the player whom Hall of Famer quarterback Steve Young once said has a chance to be better than he ever was – which is saying something – shouldn’t have spent one minute in jail. As MJD points out on Shutdown Corner, there are active players in the league who were not incarcerated for what can be considered far more serious crimes such as vehicular manslaughter, DUI/DWUI (as discussed here recently) or sexual assault.

There are voices from supporters and antagonists of PETA, citizens disillusioned by the conduct of athletes or the legal system and the denizens of a football-mad nation following the speculation of his next stop. Yet, regardless of what we may believe, there are only a few voices and opinions that matter when it comes to reclaiming Vick’s future.

For starters, as we have seen since he took over as Commissioner in 2006, Roger Goodell will be the greatest barrier to re-entry into the NFL. Chris Henry was arrested several times before he was hit with an eight-game suspension. Terry “Tank” Johnson was dealt with a half-season ban of his own after his legal troubles. Adam “Pacman” Jones has been given two lengthy suspensions under Goodell’s conduct policy, including a current indefinite suspension after another (idiotic) folly. However, only Johnson spent actual time in the can before Goodell meted out his league punishment; four months after violating probation during the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl march in 2006.

We’re assuming that Vick is going to suit up for an NFL team right away, but if Johnson sat out for eight games on top of a four-month sentence, what could Vick get for being incarcerated for a year and a half?

Vick, himself, must appear more than remorseful for ending up in prison and losing millions, but at least publicly remorseful of his acts. He’s going to have the biggest media circus in the United States following him since Bernie Madoff the moment he finishes his house arrest in July. Add the protesters and the random people who want to make their feelings known, and he’s going to have to do much more than say the right things.

Kevin Sullivan, a public relations guru with extensive experience in both the political and sports worlds, laid out a suggested PR campaign on Shutdown Corner that could possibly placate all the interested parties as Vick’s talent and age (he’s just 29 years old, remember) will certainly land him another job. Whether one holds PR/publicity as a noble field is a moot point here, but what Sullivan’s four points reflect is a chance at not only salvaging what can still be a productive career, but a chance at a second act that could serve a grander purpose than merely getting a roster spot again in the NFL.

A third voice that matters here is one that few, if anyone, have mentioned. The fraternity of NFL players is going to deal with the most unique distraction since the September 11th attacks in 2001. Before anyone interprets this as comparing terrorist attacks to the resurrection of an athlete’s career, let it be understood that this is speaking about the immediate media frenzy they will face on top of what they deal with on a normal basis. They will be hit with a constant stream of questions, demands for statements and some will give those always convenient “unnamed player” quotes.

To save you the trouble, here’s what will be asked by some of my fellow pigskin scribes: “what do you think of Michael Vick’s return?”, “do you think he deserves a second chance?” and “would you want him on your team?”. Truthfully, they’re not terrible questions to ask, but the responses might be influenced by the timing of Goodell’s decision, team personnel needs and how much hell PETA will raise between now and then. Some of the former teammates who openly supported Vick will find the spotlight shone on them. Washington’s Clinton Portis was derided for his opinion on the matter when Vick was indefinitely suspended before his trial, but you’d be foolish to believe he is the lone player in the league that feels that “they’re just a bunch of dogs”. Even those players who condemned Vick will see an extra mic or camera to see if they can forgive and forget.

If his release presented a caldron of reactions, we can only imagine what will take place in eight weeks. On July 20th, Michael Vick will have finished serving his entire sentence after two months of home confinement. By that summer Monday, several teams will have already started their training camps for the 2009 season while others will be setting up shop in towns across the country. From that day forward, position battles will be decided by performances, salary concerns and devastating injuries. Each personnel decision made by coaches and managers will be influenced by those very battles, but you can expect that Vick’s name will be connected to nearly every one of them.

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