Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The complete and utter fall of Michael Dwayne Vick

How could it have ever happened to the athlete a few years ago deemed to be the face of the National Football League? Why would someone who had come from the “Badlands” of Richmond, Virginia throw away his life? What could have led a man who had nothing, and then was given everything to throw away his life? Some of these issues can only be answered by Michael Vick, but today with Vick having agreed to a guilty plea in the charges that he had been an active participant in a dogfighting and gambling related business is days from the end of his National Football League career, Vick’s downfall is almost complete. And Michael Vick has reached his “end of days” as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.

Monday’s announcement that Vick will plead guilty on August 27 places Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank one step closer to ending the single greatest nightmare of his life. The fall of Michael Vick represents one of the final nails in Michael Vick’s coffin relationship with Blank, a billionaire who made Vick a multi-millionaire just three and a half years ago.

“We are certainly troubled with the news today concerning Michael Vick’s guilty plea to federal charges. It is our understanding that the terms of Michael's plea will not be available until next Monday, August 27. Additionally, Commissioner Goodell has asked us not to take any action until he has completed his own review of Michael's situation. Accordingly, we will have no further comment until that time.”

The NFL released the following statement concerning Vick’s decision to plead guilty Monday afternoon: “We are aware of Michael Vick’s decision to enter a guilty plea to the federal charges against him and accept responsibility for his conduct. We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons. We will conclude our own review under the league’s personal conduct policy as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have asked the Falcons to continue to refrain from taking action pending a decision by the commissioner.”

On December 23, 2004, Arthur Blank made Michael Vick a multimillionaire and at the same time Arthur Blank made the strategic decision to make Michael Vick the face of his NFL franchise.

Vick signed a 10-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons worth $130 million with a $37 million signing bonus, making him the highest paid player in NFL history and one of largest contracts ever in sports when the deal was signed.

Vick's deal surpassed the $98 million contract the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning signed in March, 2005. Manning, who signed for seven years, is guaranteed $34.5m in bonuses. Vick's $130 million potential value topped Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb's 12-year, $115m deal that ran through the year 2013. While NFL contracts are not guaranteed, in signing Vick to what was a record contract for an NFL player three and a half years ago. Vick was scheduled to be paid $6 million this year.

In the five full seasons Michael Vick has been an NFL player he as earned $34.4 million in bonuses from the Falcons and $11.2 million in salary, a staggering $45.6 million. It remains to be seen if the Falcons will be responsible for paying Vick any outstanding bonuses money owed on his remaining contract. There is also a very real possibility the Falcons will sue Vick for parts of the bonus money they have already paid Vick for services the Falcons believe haven’t been rendered.

Vick’s lead defense attorney Billy Martin said Vick reached an agreement with federal prosecutors after consulting with his family during the weekend.

"Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges and to accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made," Martin said in a statement. "Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter."

Far too little, far too late for Michael Vick. Vick met with Blank and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in late April and assured both men he had no involvement and had no direct knowledge of the rumored allegations that dogfighting had taken place on one of his properties. When Vick met with Goodell and Blank he was given the chance to come clean with both men – who both trusted Michael Vick was telling them the truth.

Arthur Blank stood by Michael Vick at the time, despite media reports that suggested Michael Vick was knee deep in the heinous crime of dogfighting charges that included the torture and mutilation of dogs.

"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 Don 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."

It remains to be seen how the legal system chooses to deal with Michael Vick but the fact that Michael Vick lied to Roger Goodell and Arthur Blank in late April represents the ultimate act of betrayal to the NFL and the NFL franchise that put so much faith in Michael Vick both on and off the football field. Forget about the court of public opinion that long ago convicted Michael Vick for what he has done, forget about the legal system – in the simplest of terms any trust and faith the National Football League had in Michael Vick is gone forever.

A great deal of discussion that took place at the NFL draft in late April focused on how far Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn had fallen in the draft. The Miami Dolphins needing a franchise quarterback passed on Quinn with the 9th overall pick.

Many believed 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. If the Falcons knew then what they know now about Michael Vick, would they have selected Quinn. Joey Harrington proved in both Detroit and Miami he wasn’t an NFL starting quarterback – he just doesn’t have what it takes to lead an NFL team. And now the Falcons are left without Vick, passed on Quinn and are hoping Harrington a “B” NFL quarterback is leading their team. Yet another devastating example of what Michael Vick’s actions has done to the future (both short and long-term) to the future of the Atlanta Falcons.

"I, like all people who know and care about Michael Vick, was very disappointed and saddened by the news," Frank Beamer, who coached Vick at Virginia Tech, said in a statement. "Although all the details are not known at this time, I am greatly concerned that Michael has put himself in this position."

"There were some judgment issues in terms of people he was associating with," Martin said. "He realized this is very serious, and he decided to plead so he can begin the healing process."

Public animal advocacy groups were quick to react Monday suggesting in no uncertain terms it’s time everyone understood how serious the crimes Michael Vick will admit to next Monday are very serious.

PETA called—no, bellowed—for strong action on behalf of dogs, and we scored!

NFL quarterback Michael Vick has accepted a deal to plead guilty to federal conspiracy charges involving illegal dogfighting. This is the latest in a long line of animal abuse cases involving NFL players. While the speed and efficiency with which prosecutors handled this case is a victory for animals and a sign that the crime of dogfighting is being treated with the gravity that it deserves, the NFL needs to follow suit.

PETA is again calling on the NFL to add cruelty to animals—in all its forms—to its personal conduct policy. This case has clearly shown that NFL fans are just as outraged by cruelty to animals as they are by any of the other antisocial behaviors outlined in the policy.

As these recent examples show, the high incidence of animal abuse cases in the NFL indicates a disturbing trend that needs to be addressed immediately:

Earlier this year, Vick's teammate Jonathan Babineaux was accused of inflicting blunt force trauma on his girlfriend's dog, Kilo, following an argument. Kilo died after reaching the emergency vet clinic.

In 2004, NFL running back LeShon Johnson was found guilty for his involvement in a massive dogfighting ring.

In 2001, former Eagles running back Thomas Hamner was twice convicted of beating his dog and has been convicted of animal cruelty.

Furthermore, an informant from inside the dogfighting world who spoke on ESPN's Outside the Lines told reporters about "a whole roster of names of professional athletes that we know are involved in dogfighting... I bet not even 10 percent have come to light." Given these disturbing allegations and the numerous recent cases of animal abuse involving NFL players, the NFL needs to act vigorously and with authority to stamp this out immediately.

And from the SPCA similar sentiments, “SPCA International is happy that swift action was taken in response to Michael Vick's dog fighting ring and we fully expect prosecutors to arrive at a punishment that fits the crime.

“The practice of dog fighting is not sport, ever - it's cruel barbarism and must be stopped.

“We are hopeful that some good can come out of this horrific crime as public awareness of dog fighting increases and more of these operations around the world are shut down.

“Stories of dog electrocutions, hanging, drowning, blunt force trauma and malnutrition abound in the eighteen page indictment filed in the District Court of for the Eastern District of Virginia. Vick and his co-defendants allegedly ran the operation since 2001.

"While most Americans may find these details hard to comprehend, the sad truth is that they are all common occurrences in the world of dog fighting," said Stephanie Scroggs, SPCA International director of communications. "Any dog trapped in that world is living a nightmare on a daily basis."

“The SPCA hopes that the publicity afforded to Vick's guilty plea will raise awareness of - and spur additional action against - the horrific practice of dog fighting.”

Vick’s legal team doing their best to spin Vick’s plea agreement seem to throwing Michael Vick’s future on the mercy of the court.

“Watching Michael Vick go through this, even for a lawyer with my experience on these types of cases, is very painful,” Billy Martin, one of his defense lawyers, said in a telephone interview with the New York Times. “We find a young man in a predicament that should never have happened.

“Michael is in the process of trying to heal himself and his family. We understand Judge Hudson has the matter in his hands, and we are hopeful that he will allow him to continue to do the only profession he knows and give him a second chance to come back into the N.F.L.”

Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who has been reporting on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry for 18 years offered his expert opinion on several key legal issues concerning what’s next for Michael Vick legally. There’s certain to be a great deal of media coverage next Monday when Vick enters his guilty plea next Monday, but what exactly will take place? Munson offered this on that issue to ESPN.com.

“Vick and the government prosecutors will file papers that give the details of Vick's admissions. The factual details in those papers will be critical. Will Vick admit that in March 2003, he helped Quanis Phillips, one of his co-defendants, hose down a losing dog and then electrocute it? Will he admit that he helped execute eight more dogs in 2004 and 2005, some by hanging, some by drowning and one by slamming it on the ground until it was dead? Will he admit that it was his money that was used in the purses and the side bets in the dogfights described by his cohorts? If he admits a personal role in the execution of dogs and a lead role in the gambling enterprise, he might never return to the NFL. Goodell and NFL officials will scrutinize these papers as they decide what should be done with Vick.

“In addition to the details disclosed in the paperwork, watch next Monday for Judge Henry Hudson to set a date for Vick's sentencing. In most federal courthouses, the sentencing comes at least several months after the guilty plea; but in the "rocket docket" procedures that prevail in Richmond, the sentencing will probably come more quickly, perhaps as early as October. Judge Hudson must also determine whether to sentence Vick's co-defendants before he sentences Vick. Tony Taylor, the first of Vick's cohorts to plead guilty and agree to testify against Vick, was to be sentenced on Dec. 14, after he testified at Vick's trial (which had been set for late November). That scheduling was an obvious incentive for Taylor to testify effectively against Vick. But now, with Vick's admission of guilt and the trial off the docket, Judge Hudson may move the date of Taylor's sentencing up, and sentence all three of Vick's co-defendants, including Quanis Phillips and Purnell Peace, before he sentences Vick. All three will be entitled to consideration for leniency because they admitted their guilt and promised to help the federal prosecutors in their case against Vick.”

As for the National Football League it’s certain Roger Goodell will suspend Vick indefinitely in the coming days; however that will represent a band-aid solution, not the long-term discipline Goodell may have in mind for Vick.

Will his prison time (expected to be at least a year) be tied to how long he’s suspended by the NFL or will Goodell attempt to ban Michael Vick from ever playing in the NFL again? However reprehensible Michael Vick’s crimes are whatever decision Goodell makes will have to factor in how Goodell believes Vick’s actions compares to the actions of other NFL players. Roger Goodell is about to complete his first year as NFL commissioner, a remarkable year for a strong decisive leader – this promises to be one of his greatest challenges to date.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: ESPN.com, USA Today and The Atlanta Journal Constitution

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