Monday, May 14, 2007

Up next for the NFL’s Conduct Code – Michael Vick

It appears it isn’t a matter of if but when National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell’s tough new NFL player conduct code will force the commissioner to suspend Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick for conduct unbecoming that of a National Football League player. The latest in what is quickly becoming a long list of deviant behavior – Vick has become embroiled in an embarrassing dog-fighting incident in Virginia. With the Falcons conducting a mini-camp over the weekend – Vick and his off-field antics were front and center, in what is quickly becoming a major distraction for the Falcons. Goodell has already met with Vick about his behavior.

“I know you're out here to talk about the ongoing investigation back in Virginia, but as of right now my situation is still under investigation and my attorney's advised me not to talk about this situation right now. That's the best thing. I know you guys have a job to do and ... if you'd respect what I have to say about just not saying anything right now until the investigation is over. With that said, if there are any football questions I'd be more than glad to have them.” Vicks offered in refusing to deal with the issue everyone wanted to question him about.

A clearly upset Falcons owner Arthur Blank made it clear he’s waiting to hear from Goodell as to what the league intends to do about Vick’s off-field antics.

"What [Goodell] will do about it, I'm not sure, but he's not going to take it lightly," Blank said. "He's got Michael on his radar and I think he made that clear to Michael as well."

For what it’s worth Blank told The Atlanta Journal Constitution he did not know if Vick has any involvement but, "from the facts we have so far, it's not a pretty picture. It's clearly an issue and we'll wait and see what revolves around it. I'm not a prosecutor or an attorney so I'm not going to sit in judgment of Michael."

At the same time, Blank is concerned about the impact Vick is having on his football teams’ image in the community.

"I told him, 'You represent us as a franchise, you represent yourself as a person and you represent the NFL. It's not one single thing, it's a series of things,' " Blank said.

"I'm not saying he's been directly involved, but in some cases he has been, and in some cases it's been the people around him." Blank said he admonished Vick: " 'You're responsible for who you're with. You need to make some difficult choices and you need to make them now. I think you're at a critical point in your life.' "

Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks reported Thursday an unnamed source had told him Vick had to be aware of the much discussed dog fighting incident.

"He knows what's going on in that house in Virginia,'' one source said. “There's not a doubt in my mind he's involved with it.” The other source cited Vick's longtime “affinity” for the dog-fighting subculture, and expressed certainty that Vick was aware of what was happening at the house.

Seven years into what at times has offered Hall of Fame talent on the field, the latest off-field incident has to be a growing concern.

In March 2005 a woman named Sonya Elliot filed a civil lawsuit against Vick alleging she contracted genital herpes from Vick and that he failed to inform her that he had the disease. Elliot further alleged that Vick had visited clinics under the alias "Ron Mexico" to get treatments and thus he knew of his condition. This led to a deluge of fans ordering customized #7 Atlanta Falcons jerseys on NFLShop.com with the name "Mexico" on the back. Due to the media interest surrounding the case, the National Football League disallowed the use of the jersey/name combination two days after the lawsuit.

On April 24, 2006 Vick's attorney revealed that the lawsuit had settled out of court with an undisclosed settlement.

Video game developer Midway Games has alluded to Vick and his Ron Mexico alter-ego in their 2006 title, Blitz: The League. Due to Midway's loss of the National Football League license (EA Sports now has exclusive NFL licensing); all teams and players in the game are fictitious. However, the "Washington Redhawks"' star quarterback is a mobile, left-handed passer named "Mike Mexico."

After a Falcons loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Georgia Dome on November 26, 2006 Vick made an obscene gesture at Atlanta fans, holding up two middle fingers. Vick has said, "I'm sorry and I apologize to all the young kids and to whoever saw me make that gesture. I just let my emotions get the best of me in that situation and it won't happen again."

Vick was fined $10,000 by the NFL for his obscene gesture, and agreed to donate another $10,000 to charity. Vick split his charity donation to two separate causes. He gave $5,000 to the family of a local fireman who had just died. He gave the other half to the Warrick Dunn foundation (which helps support single mothers).

On January 17, 2007 Vick surrendered a water bottle to security at Miami International Airport. Due to Vick's reluctance to leave the bottle behind, it was later retrieved from a trash receptacle. The bottle was found to have a hidden compartment that contained "a small amount of dark particulate and a pungent aroma closely associated with marijuana," a Miami police report said. "The compartment was hidden by the bottle's label so that it appeared to be a full bottle of water when held upright," police said. On Monday, January 22, 2007 the test results indicated there were no illegal substances in the water bottle and Vick was cleared of any wrongdoing. Vick also was drug tested and he was found innocent.

The security tape from the airport documenting the incident has also been erased because, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Miami-Dade Police Department spokesman Robert Williams wrote in an e-mail: "That information was shown to the State Attorney's Office and it was determined by them that no criminal act was committed and no charges were filed. Therefore, this video was deleted from the flash drive since it was not being used in a criminal case."

The Falcons later released the following statement: "We appreciate the speed at which the Miami authorities concluded their investigation, and we are pleased to learn of the outcome of the investigation. This is another reminder of the high-profile nature of a professional athlete and the close scrutiny players undergo related to their conduct on and off the field. We look forward to putting this matter behind us."

On March 22, 2007 Vick announced that the water bottle was a jewelry stash box, and that the substance in question had been jewelry. Vick indicated that he keeps his jewelry there to prevent theft.

Before the test results indicated there were no illegal substances in the water bottle and Vick was cleared of any wrongdoing, Saturday Night Live went on to do a parody of the incident in which they questioned Vick's actions in a skit called "Oh Really?"
Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank has more than a passing interest in Michael Vick. On December 23, 2004, Vick signed a 10-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons worth $130 million with a $37m signing bonus, making him the highest paid player in NFL history and one of largest contracts ever in sports. Vick's deal surpasses the $98m contract the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning signed in March, 2005. Manning, who signed for seven years, is guaranteed $34.5m in bonuses. Vick's $130m potential value tops Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb's 12-year, $115m deal that runs through the year 2013. While NFL contracts are not guaranteed, in signing Vick to what was a record contract for an NFL player two and a half years ago, Blank put the future of his franchise in the hands of Michael Vick a scary proposition given that the four incidents of bad behavior have occurred since the contract was signed.

"Blank is in complete denial, in part because he spent $130 million on the guy,'' one source said in the Sports Illustrated report.”Vick is his investment. When Vick does something wrong, he has Blank to run to. Blank and his wife, Stephanie, really coddle the guy. They baby him. I think they've enabled the situation to the highest degree. They've not held Vick accountable for his actions.''

That’s said all you have to do is read between the lines of what Blank told SI’s Banks and you begin to understand the depth of Blank’s ‘understanding’ of what Michael Vick means to his football team.

"There's no coddling going on here,'' Blank said. "Whatever is 180 degrees from that, that's the reality. The [financial] investment we've made in him has nothing to do with the way we treat him. When Michael has done something wrong that has been documented, we've had very direct conversations with him. We don't have all the facts of the [dog fighting] investigation, but obviously the story's not developing well. Which is one of the reasons why I asked the commissioner to speak to Michael about the situation and to be as stern as he felt he needed to be.''

Blank said he personally told Vick in recent days that his behavior must change, and not just his words -- or else.

"I would say Michael understands, and I told him he is in essence on a short leash,'' Blank said.”His behavior cannot go on this way. His actions need to be different; his decisions need to be different. He can't just talk about changing things; he has to change his life. He says he understands, and I'm hoping he's being truthful with us and wants to deal with it. I hope he has the personal strength. I think it's very appropriate to say he's at a crossroads.''

Is Vick ready to make amends for his troubling actions off the field? After meeting with Goodell and Blank, here’s what Vick had to say about his meeting with the commissioner and the owner of his team (his boss) according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution

"They both challenged me to be more accountable in all areas of my life. I know I need to make some changes around me to make sure that the people in my life have my best interest at heart. My goal is to not let my fans, my teammates, or my coaches down.

"Mr. Blank was very direct with me. He and I both understand and agree that the responsibility to not show up in the paper, on TV, or on the internet in a negative light is mine."

Blank appears to be waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of what the Falcons are expecting from Goodell and the NFL.

"I am concerned about [a possible suspension]," Blank said. "I don't think we're at that point, but you're concerned about that. If he's found to be guilty or charged with dog fighting — obviously, I have no idea or indication of what that will be — that's serious stuff."

Vick has enjoyed some of the biggest endorsement opportunities of any current NFL’er. His endorsement contracts include Nike, AirTran Airways, EA Sports, Coca-Cola, Powerade, Kraft, Rawlings, and Hasbro. His contract along with his endorsements had Vick ranked 33 among Forbes' Top 100 Celebrities in 2005.

In June 2006, Vick, along with his brother Marcus Vick and mother Brenda Vick Boddie, established The Vick Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports at-risk youth and the after school programs that serve them in the Metro Atlanta and Hampton Roads areas. The announcement of the organization came just before the start of the foundation’s first fundraiser, The Michael Vick Golf Classic. The inaugural event was held at the prestigious Kingsmill Golf Course in partnership with The Virginia Tech Alumni Association Tidewater Chapter, and netted more than $80,000 for charity. Still even when he’s trying to do something good, Vick in recent years has managed to turn a good situation into a potential embarrassment.

On April 24, 2007, Vick was scheduled to lobby on Capitol Hill, hoping to persuade lawmakers to increase funding for after-school programs but Vick missed a connecting flight in Atlanta and failed to show for his Tuesday morning appearance.

Vick's publicist, Susan Bass, said it wasn't his fault. Vick was in Tampa, Florida, on Monday to play in teammate Warrick Dunn's charity golf tournament, then caught a flight to Atlanta that was supposed to arrive in time for him to make another flight to Reagan National Airport in northern Virginia; but the AirTran flight was late leaving Tampa, Vick missed his connection, and wound up stuck in Atlanta, Bass said. "He was really mad," Bass added.

Vick's mother, Brenda Boddie, accepted an award from the Afterschool Alliance on her son's behalf. Vick was honored for his foundation's work with after-school projects in Georgia and Virginia. Forget about assessing blame, the bottom line Michael Vick had made a commitment and had failed to live up to that commitment. For an athlete so in need of good publicity, there are no excuses – end of discussion. In all likelihood Vick’s appearance an event linked to Warrick Dunn (one of the true good guys in sports) offered Vick the chance to be in the right place at the right time, but after so many recent missteps missing an opportunity (for whatever reason) becomes amplified.

"I hope he'll make some good choices and get on with his life,'' Blank said. "I told Michael, 'You've heard of the saying you are what you eat?' Well, you are who you spend time with as well. Who you hang out with, it's important. It's part of who you are known as, as a person and an NFL player.''

It is all about accountability. So much discussion concerning the NFL draft two weeks ago focused on how far Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn fell in the draft. The Miami Dolphins needing a franchise quarterback passed on Quinn with the 9th overall pick. Many believe Quinn’s freefall before he was selected with the 22nd overall pick was due in part to teams not needing a quarterback. The Dolphins didn’t believe in Quinn but what about the Atlanta Falcons who had the 8th overall pick and selected Jamaal Anderson. Should the Falcons have looked at Quinn and put themselves in a position to do what might have seemed unthinkable a few years ago – trade Michael Vick. Its time for Michael Vick to grow up and start understanding what’s expected of an NFL franchise quarterback both on and off the field. If he doesn’t he’ll have wasted what might have been a Hall of Fame career.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Sports Illustrated (Don Banks report), The Atlanta Journal Constitution and Wikipedia.

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