Did Michael Vick Deserve a Conditional Reinstatement?

Did Michael Vick deserve a conditional reinstatement?

A couple of years after a conviction on animal cruelty charges related to dog fighting, one time NFL star Michael Vick has been “conditionally” reinstated to the professional football league by its commissioner Roger Goodell. Analysts were split on exactly what would happen to Vick, a quarterback with enough talent for three or four players. Some insisted he would be let back into the league immediately, having served a full two year suspension. Still others expected that Vick would never play football again, at least not for the NFL.

It turns out both camps were wrong. Though some people will quickly call Vick’s “conditional reinstatement” an error, arguing that Michael Vick should face more severe action from the league, still others are already lining up to point out what they feel is an obvious case of double jeopardy. For example, one prominent sportswriter is already on the record saying that Vick’s additional give game suspension is like “kicking a dead horse” — a line that makes me wonder if said writer could have possible come up with a less tasteful metaphor. You see, some people think that the additional five games added to Vick’s two year suspension (keeping him off any NFL field until the sixth game of the upcoming season at least) is addint insult to injury. “He’s already done the time,” they’ll say, and they may be right. But Vick’s crime was more than a petty crime — it has been charged that Vick personally abused dogs.

For his part, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell did what he has long promised he would do — look for actions over words. Besides just adding the first five games of the upcoming 2009 season to the length of Michael Vick’s suspension, Goodell promises that he’ll be watching Vick’s behavior, intimating that Vick will be on the shortest of leashes. Though he did conditionally reinstate Vick to the NFL, there is, as always, a caveat: “only actions matter”. Goodell has made it clear that Vick’s words will not be neough to act as a true “rehabilitation”. In my opinion, that is about the only way Goodell could have handled the Michael Vick situation. Goodell is taking time to watch Vick, judge the man by his deeds, and not fall back on listening to Vick’s promises.

This is not a crime that happened ages ago — in fact, Michael Vick’s nearly two year prison sentence ended last week (last week!) when his house arrest was ended. Who can be rehabilitated in a week — what person charged with cruelty to animals can change his or her ways in just a couple of years? If Goodell didn’t add a little “insult” to Vick’s “injury”, it would be absurd. Goodell would basically be saying “Okay, you’ve paid your dues, one week was enough, strap on your helmet.”

From the angle of Michael Vick’s supporters — and there are plenty — Vick has paid a very steep price for his dog fighting crimes. He missed two seasons (or so) of NFL football, and lost out on millions of dollars in contract money and endorsements, some of which he’ll never get back, and the rest of which he’ll have to PAY back, in cash. Vick’s supporters, for the most part, agree that his inhumane treatment of animals was disgusting and that his crime shouldn’t be minimized, but they argue that the man has already paid that debt and should be allowed back in the game ASAP.

There is another angle for Michael Vick and his crowd of yeasayers. Compare Vick’s sentence and penalties to those of other NFL athletes who have committed equal (or even more serious) crimes. Take the case of Leonard Little for example. After he left a friend’s birthday party (with a blood alcohol level of 0.19 percent) in 1998, Little crashed into the car of Susan Gutweiler, killing her instantly. For his crime, which amounts to murder, Leonard Little received just 90 days in jail. Now, we can argue about the value of a dog versus the value of a human, but a two year prison sentence for cruelty to animals versus a 90 day jail sentence for killing a human is downright laughable. Even this year, we heard the results of the case against Donte’ Stallworth, also guilty of vehicular manslaughter. Stallworth received around 20 days in jail — even less than Little — and settled with the family of the deceased for an unknown amount of cash. So sometimes the criminal justice system doesn’t make sense. I still think that misses the point of Vick’s case.

Michael Vick’s crime was premeditated — he knew what he was doing to these animals, and continued to do it until he was caught. You could say that Vick would still be choke slamming dogs and pitting house pets against trained fighting dogs if he hadn’t been busted. Vehicular manslaughter, though terrible, is not as premeditated a crime as the creation and maintenance of a dog fighting ring.

I guarantee you, the Vick debate will rage on for a few months until his first game — then, if he keeps his nose clean — we’ll all go back to thinking of Mike Vick the amazing quarterback. No matter what side if the debate you’re on, one fact that you can’t deny is that Vick hasn’t yet done enough to prove to the league that he’s mentally able to play the game of football. To determine when Vick is truly “rehabilitated”, the NFL needs to take some time to track Vick’s actions and make sure they’re in line with his vocalizations of remorse.

Roger Goodell has been nothing but consistent in his comments and opinions about Michael Vick and the dog fighting situation. The commissioner has never said anything but this — that he wants to see “real remorse” on Vick’s part before he is welcome back to the league. The problem for Goodell is and has always been that he’s selling a product, and Michael Vick simply makes that product more profitable.

Michael Vick may be out of the slammer, but he has clearly not done what the NFL wants him to do inorder to be fully reinstated.