Running Local

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The Pursuit of Happiness, Michael Vick Style

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 24, 2009

The question of just what the NFL should do with Michael Vick has been hotly pursued in many places lately, not the least of which is my favorite forum website.

One of the fundamental issues I take with those who favor Vick’s being allowed back into the NFL is the concept that Michael Vick has paid his debt to society and thus should be able to pursue reinstatement to the Commissioner. Perhaps I should restate that– I don’t have an issue with Vick having paid his societal debt or asking to be reinstated; I have an issue with the assumption that he should be granted the object of his pursuit simply for having asked after having served his time in Federal prison. Roger Goodell appears this morning to be leaning towards forsaking that duty and allowing Vick back into the league with a short suspension to be serve dat the start of the 2009 season if he signs a contract. It’s a poor decision, if it comes to pass.

Many, many people have pursued a playing career and have failed, from walk-on tryout dreamers to insufficiently talented college players to ultra-talented losers like Art Schlister. Although they failed to succeed in their pursuit for disparate reasons, they all shared one commonality– the NFL rejected them. That’s the major danger in pursuing a career in playing football– there’s only one source of good jobs in the field, and if you do something to make yourself unattractive to that entity, you will fail to make a living playing football.

For an industry as image conscious as professional sports, profiting from the intentional infliction of cruelty upon animals is not something likely to endear you to your single source employer.

Let’s take this out of the realm of the NFL for a moment to illustrate the sole employer problem. Let’s make Mr. Vick an intelligence officer in the employ of the CIA, instead, and have him arrested for the same crime, running and hosting a dog fighting operation. Would the CIA immediately hire him back as he had served his time, paid his debt to society, and asked sweetly to be rehired? The answer, obviously, is of course not. That’s a bit of a problem for Mr. Vick, as the CIA is an intelligence organ of the sole major employer in his field– the government– and the government, for various reasons, is not going to give Mr. Vick another job in his field of expertise no matter how sweetly he asks as he is a felon and could do significant damage to the employer if they took him back. This is almost precisely the same situation he potentially faces in football– he is constrained to seeking work with a limited number of franchises, all under the direct control of a central authority that may well deem Mr. Vick to be deleterious to its image. In short, he could very well be screwed.

Sadly (ahem) for Vick, there’s no other employer to really pursue this career path with.

Second chances are all well and good, but to assume that Vick is owed one or that the NFL should mindlessly take it on the chin to offer him one is a bit naive. There is a real cost to the NFL for letting Vick back in after his conviction on animal cruelty charges; whichever team hires Vick, if any one did, would be subject to protests, potential boycotts, and the continuing bad press both for the club and the league of having to put up with that sort of thing.

Yes, the NFL, MLB, and other leagues have in the past allowed criminals back into their sports despite the cost to the league. In some cases that is warranted, in others it has shown a sorry lack of convictions by the various commissioners and leagues. While people who have committed worse crimes– domestic abuse, assaults, even manslaughter or vehicular homicides– have been allowed back in, that should serve as no guide in this case nor, indeed, in any case. Each situation must be base don the the individual circumstances and potential for damage to the overall entity, not just on the severity of the initial crime. Like it or not, morally wrong or not, what Vick did excites negative public opinion much more than a domestic abuse or drug charge does and that must be a consideration in the NFL’s decision on Vick.

Were I in the Commissioner’s chair, I would view this solely through the prism of business, and that means that damage control is my primary concern. In light of that, there is no way I could countenance the reinstatement of Mr. Vick, societal debt paid or not, and subject the brand identity of the NFL to the damage that allowing this felon back into the league would entail; the duty to protect the brand’s already marred image far outweighs in my mind the questionable compassion of allowing Vick to resume a playing career in the league.


4 Responses to “The Pursuit of Happiness, Michael Vick Style”

  1. B-Fly said

    Here’s the thing, though. The NFL isn’t the employer of football players. The individually-owned teams that make up the NFL employ players. We don’t have a sole employer situation, here. We have 32 employers situation. Accordingly, the decision whether to offer a contract to Mike Vick should reside with the ownership of each NFL team, not with the Commissioner. Yes, the Commissioner has been granted authority to suspend the employees of individual teams to protect the integrity of the league, but he should exercise that authority in a logical, fair and consistent manner. Many, many NFL players (and other team employees) have been accused of, admitted to, and/or been convicted of any number of crimes and offenses, including a heck of a lot of violence – against girlfriends and spouses, in connection with urban gang wars, in altercations with the public at nightclubs, etc. Mike Vick gets singled out for unique hatred and scorn because way too many Americans value dogs more than people. That’s not to excuse Vick’s conduct, but I have to say that as reprehensible as his conduct was, it’s not any more reprehensible than the conduct of many other NFLers over the years who returned to the gridiron, because a team owner decided that it was in that team’s interest to offer the player a contract, warts and all. As for viewing this through the prism of business, please! You may not like it, but having Mike Vick playing in the NFL is good for business. Whether people want to root for him or against him, he’s a draw, he’s a top-seller, he’s an attention grabber, he’s a money maker. If you’re viewing this through a business prism, you get him in uniform ASAP. It’s only if you’re trying to view this through a moral prism that you keep him out, and that morality argument falls flat for me when you look at the rap sheets of other NFLers.

  2. Bob Kohm said

    I totally disagree with your premise. You’re getting lost in this dog/person argument when it is immaterial to the situation on a moral level, but is extremely important on the business level specifically for the reasons you cite. Like it or hate it, people view animal cruelty in a much dimmer light than, say, assault. It’s simply the reality of America, 2009. You’re also waaaay off base on this assessment that Vick would be a draw. To whom? He’s not a great QB to begin with, and that was before taking a few years off for a trial and prison sentence. To the best of my knowledge he wasn’t honing his skill in the California Penal League, was he? Playing football with Burt Reynolds or Adam Sandler while in the pen? No, he was not. Are you really opining that people are going to watch the Raiders/Cowboys/whomever would sign him more to root against him? That’s just not going to bear out, imo.

    On the sole employer situation, did you not get what I was saying with the intelligence analyst story? Sure, the CIA isn;t the only intel agency, but if you’re a CIA officer and you go down for dogfighting, you need to go back to the CIA’s boss for a new job in the field or a return to your old one, as the government runs all the intel agencies. Same situation here– any of the teams needs the permission of the Commish to hire Michael Vick, and the Commish clearly can (and should) prevent that from happening. This isn’t morality, this is brand protection. It’s crazy to take on a PR problem you don’t need and that gives you little if any upside return when you can score points for telling said problem to seek work elsewhere to pay off his legal fees. Comparing his to the other rap sheets in the NFL is irrelevant in this argument, Fly as killing or dog or beating your wife are two issues that are ranked by public opinion, and this is a business solely run on and supported by public opinion. Sure I wish we viewed all of this through a moral prism– you beat your wife, kill dogs for profit or get caught with 15 kilos, you’re out. That isn’t the way it has worked out, though. It comes down to business, and Michael Vick is a drag on business. Flush him.

  3. B-Fly said

    I guess we won’t know whether he’d be good or bad for business unless and until someone signs him, but I’m pretty confident on this one, Bob. The NFL fans don’t stray from the product based on the bad behavior of players. Mike Vick was never even remotely the best QB in the league, yet he was one of the biggest TV and gate draws, and one of the best-selling jerseys. And yeah, the latter is fueled by African-Americans who bought even MORE Vick jersey’s after his arrest than they were buying before, because the anti-Vick moralizing pissed them off. No question in my mind that the rubbernecking aspect of the whole thing would drive TV ratings through the roof, at least for a while. In sports, a fascinating villain is generally good theater, good TV, good for business. The only real potential business risk for the NFL is the sponsors, and I’ve yet to hear any NFL sponsor remotely suggest they’d pull NFL advertizing if Goodell allowed a team to sign Vick.

  4. Bob Kohm said

    Yesterday’s news on African American fans buying his gear– that’s from the time of the arrest and pop culture has moved on from there. Vick isn’t a fascinating villain by any stretch of the imagination; in fact he’s likely a washed up QB with midrange skills who did something to outrage people who consider themselves to be mainstream. There’s a difference between the guy you love to hate– your “fascinating villain”– and a guy who the mainstream views as being below contempt. That’s a dangerous thing for the NFL– because when the groups both in and out of the mainstream– Humane Societies, the ASPCA, PETA, etc– get in on this thing it’s going be a very easy wave for those “normal” people to ride, especially in the city that signs him. No, it isn’t goign to make a fantasy football guy stop watching Raiders games or wherever he’d sign, but it would cause a backlash amongst the casual fans that make up a tremendous portion of both the individual team markets and the overall NFL market, the people whom the Tostitos and Mercedes and McDonalds ads are geared towards. This guy is anathema to the common man, not some Robin Hood or misunderstood guy who never had a chance, blah blah blah– you can’t build a good backstory around him and you can’t make people relate to his crime. That’s the kiss of death, an unrelatable crime. There’s no thought of “he was driven to it”, there’s no thought of “man I’ve dreamed about robbing a bank”, there’s no “he was sticking it to the man” aspect to what he did. He was hanging dogs, for crying out loud, and that isn’t going to ever be countenanced by the mainstream. Too bad people don;t feel that way about wife beaters, true, but that’s just the way it is.

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