Thursday, January 22, 2009
Updated: January 25, 6:44 PM ET
Vick deserves another NFL opportunity
By Jemele Hill
Some day very soon -- maybe by the end of the month -- Michael Vick will return to society.
Vick is expected to be released to a Virginia halfway house, where he can complete the 23-month prison term he was serving for funding an illegal dogfighting operation.
Some people -- (cough) PETA -- seem to think Vick shouldn't be let near anyone until he has his head examined. Literally.
"Saying sorry and getting his ball back after being caught enjoying killing dogs in hideously cruel ways for many years doesn't cut it," PETA president Ingrid Newkirk told The Associated Press on Thursday. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell "knows that he has an obligation to the league and to millions of fans, including children, ... to make sure Michael Vick is mentally capable of remorse before he can touch, let alone wear, an NFL uniform again."
For a variety of reasons I believe that, despite PETA's grandstanding objections, Vick deserves another shot to play in the NFL.
In fact, I would much rather see Vick be the beneficiary of Goodell's benevolence than Adam "Pacman" Jones, who has been a wart on the NFL's image since entering the league three years ago.
Before the e-mail onslaught begins, yes, I'm aware Jones hasn't been convicted of much and, until now, most of the alleged evidence against him has come from a lot of people with shaky credibility.
But for an innocent man, Jones sure has had an extraordinary number of come-to-Jesus meetings with police. He's been arrested six times and involved in 13 incidents that required a police presence. The gentlemen's clubs he attends seem to have a funny way of getting riddled with bullets.
Jones is currently out of work and, if NFL teams have any common sense, it will stay that way. He has shown little remorse or contrition, and it's become clear he would rather be painted as a victim than assume any responsibility.
Vick, after initial denials, did eventually come clean and his prison time in Leavenworth clears up the issue of his taking responsibility. Vick didn't have a choice. He stood before a federal judge and the media and admitted he financially supported the sickening practice of fighting animals.
There is no reason to want to see Jones, whom the Cowboys recently released, in another NFL uniform. There are many reasons to see Vick play again. Let's just focus on these five:
5. Remorse. If ever someone wished he could hop in a DeLorean and go back a few years, it would be Michael Vick. He lost his fortune and freedom. He's declared bankruptcy and the general public believes he's a psychopath. Think he's not sorry for what he did? Think any part of Vick would relive this nightmare again?
Now ask yourself this: Despite being linked to two shootings at gentlemen's clubs, what are the odds that Jones stays out of strip clubs?
4. Redemption. This is a nation that loves to see people rise after they've been stomped into the ground. None of us are without flaws. And while we don't all make criminal mistakes, we tend to like it when people show that they've changed.
3. Hypocrisy. I'm an animal owner and have owned pets most of my life. But there are plenty of current athletes who have done far worse things involving human beings and never were vilified as much as Vick. Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who is headed to the Super Bowl, completed anger management and psychological counseling, prompting prosecutors to drop charges against him for slapping his girlfriend.
As Brett Myers helped the Phillies win the World Series last October, it was rarely mentioned that he had once been accused of punching his wife in the face after a game in Boston in 2006 (his wife, Kim, did not want her husband prosecuted and the case was eventually dismissed).
But if Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice after facing murder charges in 2000), Jaguars wide receiver Matt Jones (suspended three weeks for violating the league's substance abuse policy after he was arrested for cocaine possession in July), Ravens running back Jamal Lewis (served four months in federal prison after using a cell phone to set up a cocaine deal in 2000) and Rams defensive end Leonard Little (served 90 days in jail and four years' probation after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in a drunk driving accident in 1999) were able to integrate back into the NFL, why shouldn't Vick?
2. Accomplishments. Unlike Pacman Jones, Vick has actually achieved something substantial in the NFL. Jones has never been selected to a Pro Bowl. Vick made the Pro Bowl three times and took the Falcons to the NFC Championship in 2004. You could argue that Vick, at certain points in his career, was one of the five best players in the NFL, regardless of position. You never could make that argument with Jones, who is still living off the reputation he earned after a breakout second season with the Titans.
1. Excitement. There will always be a debate about whether you can win long-term with Vick because of his style, but there is no doubt he is capable of generating immense excitement. The buzz and ticket sales alone make Vick a worthy risk. And with the Wildcat offense taking off in the NFL, Vick could be productive immediately with the right team.
Given that some people see Vick's cruelty toward animals as unforgivable, Vick has one chance at the NFL. Jones has been given countless chances and the final verdict is that he's not worth the trouble.
True enough, we don't know if Vick is any shape to play football. He could be a step -- or steps -- slower. He could have lost the agility and moves that made him so fun to watch. He was never a dynamic passer so if he doesn't have his legs, pursuing the NFL could be a tough challenge.
But if any vestiges of the old Vick remain, I would love to see it.
Jemele Hill can be reached at email@example.com.