So far, Vick’s plan is working
To hear Roger Goodell tell it, the decision to conditionally reinstate Michael Vick to the NFL came only after much soul searching and consultations with everyone from Vick’s third grade teacher to the guy who gasses up his Range Rover.
Even then, Goodell said he didn’t finally make up his mind until Sunday, which seems somewhat surprising because there were a number of media reports filed well before that predicting the commissioner would do pretty close to what he ended up doing.
Then again, it wasn’t all that tough to figure out. Goodell may fancy himself as a disciplinarian, but there wasn’t a lot of upside to keeping Vick out of the league when even the PETA types had quieted down and the growing consensus seemed to be that Vick had already paid a heavy price for his crimes.
The initial reaction to Goodell’s move on Monday confirmed that. No one was screaming—at least too loudly—that Vick should be put in a pit with dogs who still hold a grudge, and the heads of two animal rights groups reacted by saying little more than they hoped Vick would continue seeing the error of his ways.
Even PETA seemed to realize this fight is about over, which is good news for any NFL club still wary about the ramifications of signing Vick. Instead of holding a protest march in front of NFL headquarters, the activist group put out a statement saying it would simply continue to “watch him like a hawk.”
That, of course, was all part of the master plan crafted by Vick’s advisers long before he got out of prison in Kansas. Vick began by co-opting the animal groups by promising to work on anti-dogfighting efforts even as he resurrected his football career, and he and his people seem to have worked every angle just right to convince Goodell that he is truly a changed man.
Time has been on Vick’s side, too. It’s been more than two years since we learned about the horrific things that happened at the Bad Newz Kennels, and the images that so sickened animal lovers across America are no longer nearly so vivid in our minds.
The dogs have also all moved on, for the most part. Vick paid nearly $1 million for the continuing care of the survivors, and some have even gone on to cushy lives as family pets.
As for the others? Well, dead dogs tell no tales.
Just for the record, I was one of those who thought Vick’s crimes—and no matter what you think of Vick they are vicious, despicable crimes—should keep him both out of society and out of football for a long time. I had read all the grisly details of how dogs were maimed and killed in the name of sport, and was especially troubled by the statement of an informer who said Vick and his buddies sometimes put family pets in with the fighting dogs just to see them slaughtered.
But we live in a society where second chances are almost a birthright and, no matter how heinous Vick’s actions were, it’s hard to argue against giving him one. He’s done all the right things since being locked up, and seems to have replaced the people who formerly rode with him with a solid group of advisers and mentors such as former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy that he can seek counsel from.
For some people, that won’t be good enough. For some people, nothing will ever be good enough.
But Goodell promised to make a decision when Vick’s sentence was up, and he didn’t waste a lot of time doing it. What he came up with was a well-conceived plan for reinstatement that relies heavily on the good intentions of both Vick and the people around him, putting the onus on the former star quarterback to prove himself every day.
If Vick does what he promises, he likely has a career in the NFL once again. If he doesn’t, there’s always that $10-an-hour construction job to fall back on.
The speculation now shifts to what teams might want Vick and the baggage that he still brings. Some have already said they’re not interested, but good quarterbacks are always in short supply in the NFL. And, suddenly, a Vick signing does not look nearly as risky public relations-wise as it might have before.
What may scare teams away more than the idea of a dog killer behind center is the idea Vick may not be the quarterback he once was. He’s a running quarterback who lost two years of his prime, and teams might just want to wait until he proves he still has his legs in, say the new UFL, before making a move.
Indeed, Vick’s future remains uncertain, despite Goodell’s ruling. A lot of things still have to happen before he takes a snap in the NFL again, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be successful along the way.
At least for now, though, everything is going exactly to plan.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.