Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick is back in the news. After having served 19 months in a federal prison and several months under house arrest for charges related to running a dog fighting ring, the suspended star of the Atlanta Falcons is a free man. But the fate of the 29-year-old Vick’s career rests in the hands of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. When asked last week how he planned to rule, Goodell was non-committal. The two men met last Wednesday to discuss the possibility of reinstatement.
“The process is ongoing, and I hope to make a decision sometime in the near future” he said.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank believes Vick should play again – but just not in Atlanta. Back in the spring, Blank’s comments were straight-forward. “We’ve made it clear Michael’s not going to play for us again,” he told the press, and suggested that the Falcons had “turned the page, turned the chapter and closed the book” on the disgraced athlete. Vick is under contract with the Falcons until 2013 and would need to be traded if Goodell decides to allow him to play again.
I’ve followed the Vick saga on several levels. First, I love football. I played quarterback in high school and had offers to play in college. Second, Jean and I love animals. At the risk of igniting a ‘dog vs. cat’ debate, I’ll acknowledge up front here that we’re both cat and dog lovers.
In fact, at one point, we owned eleven, including one left behind at Jean’s mom and dad’s, a three-legged dynamo named Tripod. That feisty and spirited feline would repeatedly swat at the others with his single front paw. He engaged you with tenacity normally assigned an Olympic boxer. If he had been blessed with a fourth leg, I suspect he would have ruled the world.
Given that for background, I found every aspect of the Vick story to be disheartening. Our pets are innocent creatures, completely dependent upon our care and goodwill. In return, most will offer us their unfailing and unflinching loyalty. To deliberately put them in harm’s way is downright despicable, not to mention just plain wrong and mean.
But, that said, is it unforgivable? Is what Vick did an unpardonable act? Should he never be allowed to play in the National Football League again?
Former Indianapolis head coach and Super Bowl winner Tony Dungy visited with Michael Vick while he was in prison. Those of us here at Focus on the Family think very highly of Coach Dungy and, in fact, Dr. Dobson has interviewed him on two separate occasions. Here is what the coach recently said of Mr. Vick:
“I think Michael is just like so many other guys that I have seen, so many other people who are nameless, faceless in that [prison] environment…it’s a young man that made a mistake and is looking for a chance to recover and move forward. That’s where he is and that’s where so many of the men who are here today are.”
Understandably, there is a lot of emotion and opinion surrounding Michael Vick. But I was recently reminded about some other NFL players who at one time [or two or three or more] ran afoul of the law – but now play every Sunday in the fall.
Leonard Little is a defensive lineman with the St. Louis Rams who killed a woman while drunk driving several years ago, was allowed back into the league, and then was subsequently arrested for another DUI. He’s still in the league. Then remember Adam “Pac Man” Jones? He was arrested several times for assault, and faced felony charges related to a shooting at a strip club that left a bouncer paralyzed. There have been numerous domestic violence cases in which players essentially get their hands slapped. In 2004, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Michel Pittman deliberately rammed his Hummer into a car that was being driven by his wife. Also inside the vehicle were his two-year-old child and a babysitter. His punishment? A three-game suspension.
Is there something wrong going on here?
Where do we draw the line on giving athletes a second or third chance? Or do we give them another chance at all? Is giving a presumably repentant Michael Vick a second chance an example of earthly grace? Or is it an example of foolish leniency and a bad example to other players, not to mention our kids, who seek to make heroes of mere mortal men?