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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.

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