By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
At the risk of being stale (and losing your ear just after hello), your friendly neighborhood bleacher bum is going to weigh in on Michael Vick’s much-publicized attempt to resume his once thriving NFL career. Vick, of course, was convicted of felony dog fighting and recently completed a nearly two-year sentence that included a stay at a palatial federal penitentiary and a couple months at home with one of those stylish ankle bracelets. As my fingers strike the keys, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is struggling with the decision to reinstate Vick, and if so, whether his reinstatement should be conditional carrying a suspension into some portion of the 2009 NFL season. By the time this article lands on your lap or arrives on your computer screen, we may have the NFL’s answer to both, but regardless of what Goodell decides, Vick’s situation raises curious questions about how we, individually and collectively, view the transition of criminals back into mainstream society.
Continuing with the legal tone let me take the witness stand and disclose that I found Vick’s involvement in dog fighting deplorable. I have had pet dogs my entire life. Their loyalty exceeds what is humanly possible. In short order, they become bona fide, ranking members of the family – often outranking husbands on their wives’ popularity list. They are there for dads when domestic tranquility falls victim to a revolting teenager. They faithfully deliver unconditional love to kids or teenagers after a tough game or a devastating breakup. Simply put, dogs are, in my opinion, the best pets a family can have. Training dogs to fight to the death for nothing more than entertainment is vile, sub-human behavior. So in the wake of Vick’s admission of guilt, the NFL’s decision to “indefinitely suspend” him seemed just; and if that indefinite suspension ultimately led to a lifetime ban, so be it.
Fast-forward two years and we find in Michael Vick a man that has lost much. His heinous act cost him a lucrative NFL career, his freedom and will leave him branded “convicted felon” for the rest of his days. To be frank, this is the new reality Vick sowed through his pre-meditated, barbaric acts. But Vick is now a free man and the question before the NFL, and one we can ask ourselves is, is Vick deserving of - or more bluntly has he earned - another chance? And if so, under what conditions? There is some indication that Vick may be conditionally reinstated and subjected to an additional suspension for a portion of the 2009 season. Unless Goodell just isn’t sure Vick “gets it” yet, I don’t get this approach. If Vick really doesn’t get the seriousness of his crime after the price he’s paid – meaning he was arrogant and unapologetic in his meeting with Goodell – then he shouldn’t be allowed back in the league in any capacity. After two years of incarceration and a career in the balance, I highly doubt that’s Vick’s state of mind, unless there’s a deeper psychological issue in play. To answer the question though, Goodell and Vick have had, as of this writing, at least one conversation. If Goodell found him to be genuinely humble, penitent, and willing to be an activist on behalf of animal rights groups, he deserves an immediate second and final chance. Vick has done his jail time. Part of his continued rehabilitation – which the NFL should support - should include an opportunity to work again, provided he demonstrates he’s a changed, contrite man. Now whether an NFL team will hire him is another question. That however should be a question for individual teams, not the league, to decide. Even at 29, Vick is likely still a gifted athlete so it’s a near certainty that some team will take a shot on him. When they do Michael Vick will have an opportunity to take another huge step in his rehabilitation and, perhaps through his fame and personal ordeal, to continue to shed light on and prevent the despicable practice of dog fighting. Maybe then some good will come from this awful affair.
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