Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Michael Vick must be allowed to play in the National Football League again

It might be two years, an outside chance it could be as long as three, but somewhere in the future Michael Vick will be afforded the opportunity to once again play in the National Football League. If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell attempts to permanently ban Vick from playing in the NFL Goodell’s recently implemented NFL Players Conduct Code will represent a complete misrepresentation of justice. Vick has earned a lengthy suspension from Goodell but if Goodell is considering banning Vick from the NFL for life it would represent a perversion of what Goodell and the NFL instituted on April 10, 2007.

Monday Michael Vick took the first of many steps on his long road back, after admitting in a Richmond, Virginia courtroom he had committed illegal acts. And let’s clear up what Michael Vick has done – there is no excuse whatsoever for the deviant behavior Michael Vick has been convicted of, the actions are reprehensible, but we also live in a society where forgiveness should be a right afforded to everyone and when they’ve paid their ‘debt to society’ everyone deserves a second chance – and yes even Michael Vick deserves a second chance at his chosen profession.

"For most of my life, I've been a football player, not a public speaker, so, you know, I really don't know, you know, how to say what I really want to say.

"You know, I understand it's -- it's important or not important, you know, as far as what you say but how you say things. So, you know, I take this opportunity just to speak from the heart.

"First, I want to apologize, you know, for all the things that -- that I've done and that I have allowed to happen. I want to personally apologize to commissioner Goodell, Arthur Blank, coach Bobby Petrino, my Atlanta Falcons teammates, you know, for our -- for our previous discussions that we had. And I was not honest and forthright in our discussions, and, you know, I was ashamed and totally disappointed in myself to say the least.

"I want to apologize to all the young kids out there for my immature acts and, you know, what I did was, what I did was very immature so that means I need to grow up.

"I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player.

"I take full responsibility for my actions. For one second will I sit right here -- not for one second will I sit right here and point the finger and try to blame anybody else for my actions or what I've done.

"I'm totally responsible, and those things just didn't have to happen. I feel like we all make mistakes. It's just I made a mistake in using bad judgment and making bad decisions. And you know, those things, you know, just can't happen.

"Dog fighting is a terrible thing, and I did reject it.

"I'm upset with myself, and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God. And I think that's the right thing to do as of right now.

"Like I said, for this -- for this entire situation I never pointed the finger at anybody else, I accepted responsibility for my actions of what I did and now I have to pay the consequences for it. But in a sense, I think it will help, you know, me as a person. I got a lot to think about in the next year or so.

"I offer my deepest apologies to everybody out in there in the world who was affected by this whole situation. And if I'm more disappointed with myself than anything it's because of all the young people, young kids that I've let down, who look at Michael Vick as a role model. And to have to go through this and put myself in this situation, you know, I hope that every young kid out there in the world watching this interview right now who's been following the case will use me as an example to using better judgment and making better decisions.

"Once again, I offer my deepest apologies to everyone. And I will redeem myself. I have to.

"So I got a lot of down time, a lot of time to think about my actions and what I've done and how to make Michael Vick a better person.

"Thank you.''

In the coming days you’ll be afforded the opportunity to hear and read plenty of reaction to what Michael Vick admitted to in court Monday, many of those comments will be from ill-informed media types who have their own agenda relating to Michael Vick – made even more ironic since many of those same so called ‘journalists’ played their part in creating the heroic persona built around Michael Vick.

One of more intriguing questions asked repeatedly in recent weeks concerning Michael Vick – how and why could someone with contracts worth in excess of a hundred million dollars risk everything by participating in a dogfighting business. That is an easy question to answer. Society places athletes on a pedestal, or at least the elite athlete someone who was as good as Michael Vick was from his days a Pop Warner footballer, through high school, his days at Virginia Tech and finally his five years as a member of the Atlanta Falcons those around Michael Vick created a world where Michael Vick believed he was above others – almost superhuman.

"The expectations that we put on celebrities and sports icons are phony, unfair and hypocritical....We put these people on an inflated pedestal and when they tumble the wrath of the society comes down on them," Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author of books on race and politics told Reuters.

"I don't think he should be over-penalized because of who he is," said civil rights leader Al Sharpton on his radio phone-in show in a view echoed by many callers.

"He should be treated as any first offender. You can't treat someone different because they are a celebrity."

The crimes Michael Vick has admitted too are heinous and distributing. That said, the outrage concerning what Michael Vick has done stands in a remarkable contrast when compared to a ‘sample’ of alleged criminal activity and crimes other athletes have committed. Why has society been so quick to forgive and embrace others for their mistakes while wanting to see Michael Vick banned from ever playing in the NFL again?

O.J. Simpson, one of the best running backs in NFL history, was acquitted of the 1994 murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman. In 1997, however, a civil jury found Simpson liable for the wrongful death of Goldman and battery against Brown. Simpson, the 1968 Heisman Trophy winner and six-times Pro Bowler, was ordered to pay $33,500,000 in damages.

Pete Rose, Major League Baseball's all-time hits leader, was sent to federal prison in 1990 for tax evasion. In 1989, Rose was barred from the game for life because of gambling, and in 1991 was banned from Hall of Fame consideration by a vote of the hall's board of directors. If Rose had apologized soon after he was banned from baseball it’s likely he’d be in the Baseball Hall of Fame today.

Former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson was convicted in 1992 for the rape of a beauty pageant queen in an Indianapolis hotel room. He was sentenced to six years in prison and released in 1995 after serving three years. Tyson earned hundreds of millions of dollars after he served his prison sentence – paid his debt to society.

U.S. Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a Jan. 6, 1994, knee-battering assault in Detroit on her arch-rival, Nancy Kerrigan. Harding pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution - admitting she knew who was responsible but failed to tell authorities - and was sentenced to three years probation. Harding never served a day in jail after having direct knowledge her former husband tried to cripple her biggest rival.

Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens avoided murder charges and possible jail time by pleading guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice in exchange for testifying against two co-defendants. The NFL fined Lewis $250,000 for conduct detrimental to the league. The co-defendants of the five-times Pro Bowl linebacker were ultimately acquitted of the slayings of two men following a Super Bowl party on Jan. 31, 2000. A year later, a year later Ray Lewis led the Baltimore Ravens to their first ever Super Bowl title and was selected as the MVP at Super Bowl XXXV.

A federal judge in Atlanta sentenced National Football League player Jamal Lewis in 2005 to four months in prison and one year of probation for using a cell telephone to try to set up a cocaine deal. Lewis signed a free agent contact with the Cleveland Browns during the off-season and is scheduled to make $3.5 million with a performance bonus of $1.5 million more.

Leonard Little currently plays for the St. Louis Rams of the NFL. He attended the University of Tennessee. After a drunken birthday in 1998, NFL star Little crashed into and killed another motorist, Susan Gutweiler. When tested, his blood alcohol level measured 0.19 percent. Little received 90 days in jail, four years probation and 1000 hours of community service. Six years later, Little was again arrested for drunk driving and speeding. Little was acquitted of driving while intoxicated, but was convicted of the misdemeanor speeding charge. On Week 11 of the 2006 NFL season, Little signed a 3-year extension with the Rams.

"He absolutely must account for what he has done," Dennis Courtland Hayes, interim president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in an interview with The Associated Press last week. He had earlier given similar comments to NBC's "Today" show.

But Hayes cautioned against condemning the Atlanta star too quickly.

"It's real clear that Mr. Vick himself would acknowledge that he has made a mistake," Hayes said. "I think there is reason to believe in his redemption."

Hayes' comments came a day after the head of the NAACP's Atlanta chapter said Vick should be allowed to return to football after the case is resolved.

"As a society, we should aid in his rehabilitation and welcome a new Michael Vick back into the community without a permanent loss of his career in football," Atlanta NAACP President R.L. White said.

"People need to understand the backdrop as some in the African-American community make their expressions of support," Hayes said. "That backdrop includes anger and distrust with the criminal justice system that disproportionately pays attention to African-Americans and Hispanics.

"While no dog deserves to be mistreated, the backdrop includes the perception among some African-Americans that the criminal justice system treats them like animals and that nobody seems willing to do anything about the disparity."

"He may in fact be being treated better than some African-Americans and Hispanics who don't have the resources and financial means that he has," Hayes said. "On the other hand, there might be some of a different race or different ethnicity who might be treated a bit differently."
Soon after Vick’s press conference Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank offered these telling comments.

“We cannot tell you today that Michael is cut from the team,” Blank said. “Cutting him may feel better today emotionally for us and many of our fans but it is not in the best long-term interest of our franchise.”

Blank said Vick called him to apologize last Monday when news first broke of the quarterback’s plea agreement. He said Vick’s comments today, which included an apology to Head Coach Bobby Petrino, Blank, his teammates and children who follow his career, is the first move in his personal recovery process.

“It was a brief conversation, but I think it was a very sincere conversation,” Blank said.

“When you see Michael go into that courthouse, that’s a little different now,” added McKay. “I can say, personally, that was tough to see… I thought he did an outstanding job of taking the first step in what’s going to be a lot of steps.”

Blank made it clear the team will respond by moving on with the football season. It will do so in front of sellout crowds at the Georgia Dome, as the owner also announced Monday that the team’s season ticket sales this season were at the highest level in franchise history.

Blank’s sentiments aside, according to a report last week in The Atlanta Journal Constitution since Vick was first indicted and suspended by the NFL the secondary ticket marketplace eBay, Craigslist and StubHub have been flooded with Falcons fans trying to sell tickets they purchased for the 2007 season. Falcons fans may have voted with their hearts in their sense of betrayal and outrage towards Michel Vick but when it comes to their minds they’re no longer interested in seeing Falcons games because Michael Vick is no longer a part of the teams’ 2007 plans.

He said team partners have also been understanding and that the Vick situation will “not compromise what (the Falcons) stand for.”

“I could not be more proud of our head coach today than I’ve ever been in the past,” Blank said when asked about the Falcons’ next steps. “He’s done an unbelievable job focusing himself, his staff and the players on the responsibility of football… My view is they have moved past this. It doesn’t mean they’re going through some personal emotions and mourning -- we all are -- but they’ve moved past this and focused on their job.”

As for Blank and NFL commissioner Goodell their sense of betrayal in dealing with Vick justifiably goes well beyond how Vick has embarrassed the Falcons and the National Football League. Soon after Goodell suspended Adam Pacman Jones for the entire 2007 NFL season and Chris Henry for the first eight games of the 2007 season Goodell and Blank met with Vick to discuss the allegations a property Vick had owned had been the center of a dogfighting business. Vick denied that he had any direct knowledge of the alleged activities.

“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 at the Falcons mini-camp in early May.

A clearly upset Falcons owner Arthur Blank made it clear at the same time he’s was 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 four months later Blank told The Atlanta Journal Constitution in early May 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."

Should Michael Vick have come clean with Roger Goodell and Arthur Blank when he met with them in early May? It’s so easy to say four months later Michael Vick should have told the truth – that’s a great deal easier said than done. Did Michael Vick make a mistake – an unbelievably stupid mistake! How could anyone risk more than a $100 million in earnings for a dogfighting business? Its almost beyond belief, its nonsensical but it did take place and once Michael Vick has paid his debt to society he should be allowed to resume his NFL career – he had better be allowed to once again enjoy the opportunity to play on Sunday.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Reuters, Wikipedia and ESPN.com

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