While I was in Pittsburgh for the Right Online conference, the Philadelphia Eagles announced that they had signed former NFL star and ex-convict Michael Vick to a contract that could pay as much as $7 million. Vick had just been released a few weeks earlier from his sentence in federal court on charges surrounding a dog-fighting ring. Stories of horrible cruelties to the dogs involved have circulated for years, including electrocution and drowning of dogs that would not fight to the standards involved in the disgusting practice.
Needless to say, in a city that loves the Steelers, the decision by the Eagles to bring Vick onto their team was a hot topic. Even among the people at the conference, it became a conversation piece. One political reporter chatted with me about it and his former support for the Eagles — and how he was now considering life as a Steeler fan as a consequence of the decision. Others had more visceral reactions, and almost no one supported the Eagles’ decision or the league lifting its ban on Vick.
Yesterday, Vick tried to explain himself on 60 Minutes in an interview with James Brown, taking full responsibility for his actions and impressing on viewers that he learned his lesson. For those who say that his involvement with dogfighting showed a lack of moral courage, Vick says, “I agree”:
The New York Times’ NFL blog, Fifth Down, interviews a couple of people to judge Vick’s sincerity in this interview. Both seem to feel that Vick meant what he said and feels true contrition, although FD notes that this is impossible to know with certainty. However, that’s not really the issue here anyway.
Michael Vick committed a series of crimes, including terrible cruelty to animals unable to protect themselves from him and his co-conspirators. He got convicted of those crimes, and did his time without complaint. He has to abide by the terms of his release. What he thinks in his head doesn’t matter at this point, just as why he got involved in it in the first place is immaterial to the crimes themselves — a point Vick makes himself in the interview.
Vick paid the price for his crimes, as determined by the court. His crime didn’t involve the NFL or the games on the field — unlike, say, gambling on his own team might have involved the NFL. Now that Vick has been released, he should have an opportunity to earn a living. If an NFL team sees him and his talent as a net gain as balanced against his reputation, then the two of them should be able to contract for his services. Of course, fans can also vote with their feet. If football fans don’t like Michael Vick, they can avoid buying tickets to Eagles games, or jeer Vick and the Eagles on the field when they appear. That’s perfectly legitimate, too.
I think the NFL did the right thing by lifting the ban after Vick’s release. I’m not especially supportive of the Eagles’ decision to pay Vick to play football per se, but I definitely believe they should not have been blocked from doing so.
What do you think? Watch the interview and cast your vote: