Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Vick's NFL Future -- Revisited

I realize on Tuesday I wrote that former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick deserved a second chance in the NFL once his prison sentence officially ended in July (he was released from prison into home confinement on Wednesday). But the more I think about Vick's situation, and the opinions on both sides of the argument, I'm not so sure.

I'm still of the mindset that everyone deserves a second chance after paying their debt to society. Whether you agree with his sentence or believe it should've been stricter, the fact remains that come July, Vick will be a free man in the eyes of America's justice system. While that means certain rights will forever be lost to him -- like the right to vote -- his right to earn a living will never go away.

So by that logic, the law cannot keep Vick out of the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell can, though, and he would be well within his rights if he decided to slap a lifetime ban on the former Virginia Tech star. The NFL is a private corporation, and Goodell issuing a lifetime ban would be no different than your boss firing you after you were convicted of a felony.

In some regard, a lifetime ban from the NFL would hold more weight, since the league is so high-profile and its athletes are often seen a role models. It's one thing if Joe the Plumber served two years for a drug charge, then came back and got a job building houses and apartment buildings. It's another thing entirely when a multimillionaire athlete goes to jail for two years, only to return to the fields and national TV broadcasts for everyone to see.

Whether people like Charles Barkley like it or not, professional athletes are role models. Children look up to athletes, quarterbacks in particular, and that would raise a serious moral dilemma should Goodell reinstate Vick. Would you want your child rooting for a convicted felon?

Then again, this would provide a wonderful opportunity for parents to step in and teach their children about consequences. Use Vick as an example of someone who committed a horrible act, broke the law and paid the price for it. If Vick returns to the league a new man, use that as a chance to tell your child about a person's quest for redemption and teach them the values relevant therein.

There are those who believe that while Vick is entitled to earn a living once he completes his sentence, he should do so out of the public eye. Vick will be working a $10-an-hour construction job during his two months in home confinement, and there are those who would like to see that become his permanent occupation once he's a free man. It's a fair argument, because they're not denying Vick his right to earn a living at all.

If I had to guess, I'd posit that Goodell might suspend Vick for the entire 2009 season (Vick's suspension is currently indefinite), while gauging Vick's words and deeds over that time. If Goodell deems Vick is remorseful and on a redemptive path, only then would be lift the suspension and make the quarterback eligible in 2010. Then the Falcons would have to release him before another team would take a chance in signing him.

And it would be a chance, one I'm guessing most teams won't be willing to take.

There's also the reality that even once Vick's legal penance is paid, he'll still be paying a price. Say Vick returns to the NFL and a team signs him; the public relations backlash won't affect just the team in question. A large portion of the venom and criticism will be directed at Vick. Every time his team goes on the road, the fans will let him hear it. PETA and other animal rights groups will continue to protest Vick everywhere he goes, and no matter what Vick does from this day forward, he will likely face the reality of his atrocities everywhere he looks.

If Vick truly does commit himself to being reformed, that will carry with it a certain amount of guilt and emotional baggage. Whether he finds solace in faith or another avenue, the reality of what he and his friends did to those dogs will live with him forever, regardless of whether or not he plays in the NFL. If Vick has any sort of conscience, he'll probably spend some sleepless nights reliving his atrocities.

If Vick winds up working outside of the NFL, his crime will stare him in the face every time he applies for a new job. Job applications ask if a prospective employee is a convicted felon, and if so, offers the applicant a chance to explain the situation. If Vick finds himself filling out job applications like a regular person, he'll face that reality over and over again.

That in itself is a hefty punishment. The law might consider Vick a free man in a few months, but he'll never be free of himself.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sports Round-Up, Volume 4

Second Chance: Though PETA and others in society would love to see Michael Vick rot in anonymity for the rest of his life, even once his debt to society has been paid, the fact remains -- he deserves a second chance. That's just how this country works; most people will be given a second chance once they've served their punishment. Once his sentence is over in July, Vick will deserve the same chance. What he did was grotesque, but as long as he doesn't screw up again, why deny the man his right to earn a living doing what he loves?

Just Wait: If you think the Brett Favre coverage over the past two years has been bad, just wait until Vick is released from prison. Then wait for when his home-confinement period is over. Then wait for commissioner Roger Goodell to reinstate him. The media circus will probably make Favre jealous -- and lead him to retire and unretire once more. God help us if Vick starts making Wrangler commercials.

Chuckie: Jon Gruden will replace Tony Kornheiser in the Monday Night Football booth this season, joining Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski. Kornheiser's departure will please fans, who almost universally hated him on MNF (despite loving him on Pardon the Interruption), but I have to wonder -- why pair Gruden, a quarterback addict, with a former signalcaller like Jaworski? Five bucks says Gruden will try to sign Jaworski to the Tampa Bay Bucs in the preseason.

All Over: Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals have been eliminated from the NHL playoffs. Feel free to go back to not caring about hockey. On a brighter note, though, both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are still playing. And the way the NBA playoffs have been the past month or so, fans looking for fights probably won't miss much, even without hockey.

T.O. in Buffalo: Somewhere, Tim Russert is rolling over in his grave.

Yard of Bricks: Remember when the Indianapolis 500 used to mean something? Sure, it's still a month-long spectacle and a big deal in IndyCar ranks, but when was the last time the general American sports fan cared? My guess: it was before 1995, when a fued led to the split of open-wheel racing, forming IRL and CART. American open-wheel racing hasn't been the same, and nothing short of a Danica Patrick win will drum up interest. There's a reason the IRL called Versus home now.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sports Round-Up, Volume 3

Farve Away: Here we go again -- the annual story of "Will Brett Favre or Won't He?" I could really care less what he does -- to me, he will always be a Packer, like Michael Jordan was a Bull even after his stint in Washington -- but one question still bugs me: if Favre does come back, will John Madden come out of retirement, too?

No Shock: According to a report by The Los Angeles Times and on, Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez will face a 50-game suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Ramirez has escaped much of the scrutiny of the Steroid Era to this point, and has helped his team to a league-best 20-8 record so far this season. The impact on the Dodgers aside, who here's surprised? If you raised your hand, you are dangerously naive.

Simple Solution: Heading into this weekend's Players' Championship at the TPC at Sawgrass, I've heard the same question time and time again: "What's wrong with Tiger Woods?" Obviously referencing the fact that Woods has only won once since his return from knee surgery, and last week faded down the stretch in Charlotte, I think everyone's missing one very important fact: if you don't make putts, you won't win golf tournaments. Everybody breathe; Tiger's going to be just fine.

No-Brainer: The New Orleans Hornets are expected to keep head coach Byron Scott, despite his team getting blasted out of the first round of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks. This year's playoff showing aside, the move makes sense. Scott made the Hornets relevant again, and even though the team has one of the game's best stars in Chris Paul, it doesn't work without Scott pulling the strings. I'm glad management chose to stay the course rather than give in to a knee-jerk reaction.

Shame: It's too bad Sidney Crosby plays for an Eastern Conference team; if he were out west, how great would a potential Stanley Cup Finals match-up with Alex Ovechkin be? Gary Bettman would love that, I bet, and I'm sure a lot of people who don't necessarily follow hockey would, too. Their rivalry is what the NHL needs right now; if the league could get off Versus and onto a channel people actually get, that would be even better.

Deja Vu ... Kinda: I have to admit, Ron Artest going into the stands in the first round against Utah was pretty funny -- but not as funny as his post-game reactions. It's nice to see he's able to joke about one of his darkest moments as a player -- and indeed, one of the league's darkest moments -- even if no one if Detroit was laughing. It shows Artest has moved on, which is nice. Kobe Bryant should be a bigger concern right now anyway.

Say it Ain't So, Joe: You think Yankee fans miss Joe Torre? In 12 years with the Yankees, Torre took them to 12 straight playoff appearances and four World Series titles. Then the Steinbrenners run him out of town, and Torre winds up with Dodgers, where he had them close to the World Series last year and appears to have the best team in the National League this season (well, before ManRam's suspension). The Dodgers will likely still make the playoffs in the weak NL West, while the Yankees missed the playoffs last season and are toiling around .500 with a bad rotation and a Little League ballpark. I can't help but think the Yankees have the wrong Joe.

Priorities: What is Congress doing holding hearings about the flawed BCS system in college football? I'm as big a BCS hater as there is -- I still consider Utah the true national champion -- but don't the cronies in Washington have more important things to worry about? Like, say ... the economy? What about the budget and the banks and the automakers who are in trouble? I'm not saying the BCS should stay, but it's not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.