Tuesday, August 21, 2007

He Blew It

For two years I watched Michael Vick and the Hokie's shred the SU defense. Now I watch this talented and flawed young man shred his own life. From the NY Sun:

Less than two months after he turned 27 years old, Michael Vick likely ended his football career yesterday. He had no other choice.

Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, announced through his lawyer that he will plead guilty to federal conspiracy charges and confess to a longtime involvement in the grisly underground world of dogfighting. That confession will almost certainly end the National Football League career of a player who just a few months ago was among the most marketable stars of America's most popular sport.

We've rented a cottage on Lake Ontario this week (yup there's wifi here) and while taking a walk yesterday we met one of our neighbors. While talking to him his two dogs (little more than pups - once a mixed breed Golden Retriever and the other a Dalmatian) were playing and wrestling with each other right next to us. Growling, snarling and play biting each other, my wife got a little upset, particularly when one had the other by the throat.

It didn't bother me; I knew they weren't trying to hurt each other, that's how dogs play. But if it was for real I would try to help the owner stop it. I cannot imagine betting on a dog fight - watching these beasts maim and kill each other. And when I speak of Vick's character as flawed, that's what I mean - enjoying this horrid spectacle implies a degree of cruelty in his nature that is disturbing. And his younger brother, Marcus Vick, also manifests some of the same character flaws that Vick the elder does. Marcus was thrown off the Hokies football team last year after assaulting an opposing player and committing a series of crimes. You have to wonder about the Vick family.

Vick agreed to make the plea in exchange for a lenient sentence, and he is expected to serve a year or two in prison, meaning he will be a free man some time in 2008 or 2009. But Commissioner Roger Goodell will not welcome Vick back to the NFL when he gets out of jail. Goodell will certainly suspend Vick from the league for at least a year beyond his prison sentence, and even if the league eventually lifts its suspension, this wouldn't happen until, at the earliest, the start of the 2010 season.

Maybe yes, maybe no. What Vick has done is anger an implacable enemy - the liberal do gooder PETA people.

Goodell has said suspended players need to earn the right to be reinstated. In Vick's case, earning that right would entail showing genuine remorse for his involvement in dogfighting, speaking out publicly against it, and making large donations to animal rights groups. In the best-case scenario, the NFL might allow Vick back when he's 30 years old and hasn't played football in more than three and a half years. At that point, any NFL team that signed him would bear the brunt of protests and boycotts from animal rights groups. Even if the league allows him to play again, no team will want him.

First off - let's get this straight; it's not a right, it is a privilege to play in the NFL. We don't need anymore invented rights. The word we need to examine is "restitution;" it is not about earning a non-existent right. Restitution is proof of repentance, but it is difficult to determine the sincerity of these actions. We see jailhouse conversions all the time, some are sincere, some are not. God alone accurately judges the heart; we look to an individual's actions to gauge his heart.

And that's just based on what is known right now. Although his plea deal ensures that this won't get worse for Vick from a legal standpoint, the NFL is conducting its own internal investigation, and it could find that Vick violated the NFL's prohibitions against gambling. As part of their guilty pleas, all three of Vick's co-defendants signed statements saying that Vick supplied their operation (which they called Bad Newz Kennels) with money to gamble on dog fights. The standard NFL player contract contains a clause entitled "Integrity of the Game" that says gambling activities that "bring discredit to the NFL" can result in a lifetime suspension. There's no evidence that Vick gambled on football, but gambling on dogfighting is enough to make Goodell kick him out of the NFL forever.

I find the dogfighting more troublesome then the gambling. But Vick's troubles may be just beginning. It looks like federal prosecutors are examining RICO charges against the former quarterback.

Pleading guilty was the right choice for Vick, however, because the evidence against him was strong and the charges he faced were severe. Federal prosecutors said they had seven eyewitnesses prepared to testify against Vick, including all three of his former friends who were indicted along with him last month. Prosecutors were also said to be preparing racketeering charges that, with a conviction, would have put him behind bars for a decade or more.

RICO prosecutions are the feds' favorite legal tool to put away violent street gangs. The sentencing options are very restrictive, RICO targets usually do serious time. Local thugs fear RICO not only because of the time, but also the location where they do the time. A homie from Philly does not want to spend the next fifteen years in Blank Stare, Utah.

But I think some deals have already been made in order to secure Vick's guilty plea. And I suspect that those deals involve his possible return to the NFL.

Still, Goodell must be relieved that Vick pleaded guilty. The only way this could have gotten worse for the NFL is if the case had dragged on and been a daily distraction during the regular season. There were reports last week that if Vick went to trial, two of his Falcons teammates would be called to testify. It's hard to imagine that a trial wouldn't have further tainted the NFL's image.

I suspect that Vick plead out based on some assurance that he might be able to return. Neither the NFL nor Atlanta's owner, Arthur Blank, wanted a trial that would drag this spectacle before the public in horrifying detail and also possibly implicate Vick's teammates. And Blank cannot be pleased that he appears like a fool after committing $130 million to purchase the services of a felon.

THE NFL has just sacked one of the NFL's most prolific quarterbacks. It now remains to be seen if the feds decide to boot his ass through the goal posts.

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