Monday, August 27, 2007
To the Dogs (or, Don't Be Like Mike)
Today was Michael Vick's turn. In the tradition of such luminaries as Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback became the latest celeb in 2007 to throw himself upon the mercy of public opinion. Just hours after Vick pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting charges - charges he had boastfully denied up until now, charges that he lied to the NFL commissioner, the owner of his football team and nearly everyone else about - he did his best to appear contrite and shameful in front of the press and the world.
He said all of the right things. He apologized to everyone he had misled. He said he had found God (convenient, no?) and that he would redeem himself - not as a football player, but as a human being. And he did it all without a written statement prepared by his lawyers in his hands.
And I didn't buy a word of it.
Why didn't I? What was it about Vick's words, spoken in a way that seemed unrehearsed and from the heart, that failed to touch my heart? Why do I still look upon him as a fraud, not just a felon? Maybe because the switch had been flipped too readily. How convenient for Vick to say he was sorry, that he had found religion and seen the error of his ways, now that his ass is literally on the line. His freedom is a foregone conclusion - he's going to jail, even as pundits say that today's press statement (and the inevitable TV interviews - who will get the first one? Katie? Larry? Oprah?) are part of a campaign to rehabilitate Vick's image before the judge presiding over his case sentences him in December. Word is that his lawyers are hoping to get away with probation or maybe house arrest, but that's a pipe dream. He's going away - maybe for a year, maybe longer - and not to Paris Hilton jail either. This is federal, so Vick is going to a real prison - a "Prison Break" prison, if you will, and there's no full-body tattoo that's going to get him out of this one.
More is on the line for Vick, of course. His NFL career as he knew is is done as well. He's been suspended indefinitely by Roger Goodell, the still-green commissioner of the league who already has shown himself to be a hard-ass when it comes to discipline. Vick not only participated in illegal behavior, he gambled on it as well, and gambling is the third rail of professional sports. All of the leagues are deathly afraid of the taint of gambling, of what it can lead to - the very corruption of their sports. And the leaders of said leagues will do whatever it takes to keep the stink of gambling out of their houses. Just ask Pete Rose about that one.
Vick's suspension is lifetime in everything but name. It's Goodell's call whether Vick even gets the chance to play again in the NFL - and considering Vick lied to his face about the dogfighting charges within days of apparently taking an active part in killing fighting dogs with his own hands, I doubt if the commish is inclined to let Vick back into the club for the duration. (Even if Goodell goes ahead and bans Vick for life, the QB could file for reinstatement down the line. This is a standard rule throughout most of the pro leagues - even Rose has filed, so far unsuccessfully, to get his baseball life back. It's a fact that my friend Beth finds frustratingly stupid, and we had an energetic conversation about it earlier today.) But say Goodell does tell Vick in three or four years, 'OK, you're back in.' Some team still has to give him another chance, another contract, and that's going to be a hard sell to make to the community that team is part of. An over-the-hill, convicted felon who murdered defenseless pooches with his bare hands - yeah, this is the new face of your team!
Michael Vick was the face of the NFL, let alone the Atlanta Falcons. He was the most exciting player in a decade, a running-and-gunning quarterback who ran for 1,000 yards in a season - a living video game who was a dangerous weapon on the field. He had the richest contract in league history - $130 million over 10 years. And he pissed it all away for an activity he knew was against the law. And now he wants us, suddenly, to feel that he is sorry for what he did? Uh-uh. Vick is sorry he got caught, and that isn't good enough. His "act of contrition" tour is more about saving his butt and his career more than anything else, the equivalent of another football player searching for the "real killers" and a certain starlet turning her back on partying in favor of good deeds. In other words, total crap. God may forgive Vick, but he's going to have to work a lot harder to get the rest of us to buy his latest scramble away from this trouble.
Don't drop the soap in the slammer, Mike.