Wow! The Atlanta NAACP has asked the NFL to refrain from banning Michael Vick. Why? The NAACP is an important organization but throwing its support behind a man who made a conscientious decision to break the law only compromises its credibility in dealing with more substantial issues.
Michael Vick is not the victim of racial discrimination. He hasn’t been singled out or treated unfairly. It’s true that this story has garnered considerable attention but that’s not because Vick happens to be black; it’s because he’s one of the most marketed players in the NFL. The world was his oyster and he had a enough money for seconds. People are fascinated because Vick chose to throw it all away.
Vicks supporters, including teammates like Fred McCrary, insist he’s a good father and a fine man but do good men associate with known criminals? People bought and sold drugs in a house Vick owned because he allowed drug dealers to live there. Do good fathers slam dogs to the ground until they stop breathing? We all make mistakes but traveling around the country to participate in the felonious act of dog fighting isn’t an indiscretion, it’s a criminal lifestyle. Good fathers don’t end up in prison.
Animal cruelty is not as serious an offense as it should be. Realistically Vick will serve less than a year behind bars. He’ll be sentenced to more but post sentencing appeals and good behavior provisions will have him out in time to start the 2008 season. Virginia is considering state charges but Vick’s attorneys will fare much better in thwarting their efforts. The real penalty will come from the NFL.
The problem the NFL faces is twofold. On one hand they have the public relations disaster Michael Vick has created. Just when Roger Goodell thought he was getting the NFL’s image restored by punishing troublemakers like Chris Henry and Pacman Jones, the Vick saga unfolds and the NFL is suddenly taking a beating. Everybody is waiting to see how Goodell handles this high profile case. Suspending Chris Henry for eight games was easy, banning Pacman for a year was understandable but Vick was an officially licensed icon. What now?
Goodell wanted to wait for the courts to determine Vick’s fate but the specter of boycotts and protests forced him to put Michael Vick on administrative leave. At the time it looked as though Vick would be mired in a high-profile trial that was scheduled to start right after Thanksgiving. It was a distraction nobody wanted so Goodell put everything on ice. Now that Vick has agreed to plead guilty to felonious criminal activities the NFL must take action. The fact that Vick has been accused of virtually torturing dogs to death makes determining the course of that action decidedly difficult.
But it might be a moot point. The NFL has never had to address the issue of dog fighting but gambling is a subject sports league commissioners know all too well. Every sport at every level has rules that spell out stiff penalties for gambling and most of them end with the words lifetime ban. Vick’s activities included illegal gambling because numerous bets were placed the dogs. It doesn’t matter how much he bet or that the betting was limited to dog fighting. The fact that Vick participated in illegal gambling might warrant a significant suspension. With the recent gambling scandal in the NBA no league can afford to take these infractions lightly. So the NFL has an easy way out.
Aside from skin color the NAACP has no basis for getting involved on Michael Vick’s behalf. Unlike Genarlow Wilson, a high school kid thrown in prison for receiving oral sex, Vick knowingly committed the crimes he is going to plead guilty to. Playing in the NFL is a privilege Michael Vick revoked when he allowed himself to become a public relations nightmare. The NFL will lose millions of dollars in revenue thanks to Vick’s decision to break the law and millions more will be lost if Vick is allowed to come back.
This isn’t about color. The NFL places a similar stake in Peyton Manning’s public appeal. Like Vick, Manning is one of the official faces of the NFL. Ladainian Tomlinson and Brian Urlacher are also go to guys when it comes to mass marketing the product that is the NFL. If any of them brought similar shame upon the league they would be facing similar circumstances. To put it in perspective OJ Simpson was found not guilty in a court of law but the NFL goes to great lengths to keep the Hall of Fame running back away from league functions. In the end it’s about money.
Racism is alive and well in this country. Genarlow Wilson is still in jail, six black kids in Louisiana are facing prison time for fighting back against racial intimidation, and somewhere somebody is being denied an opportunity because their skin is too dark. Michael Vick has his opportunity and squandered it. The NAACP should not compromise its integrity by helping him get another one. The NFL would be right to banish Vick from the league forever and the NAACP support that action.