The Reality of Vick’s Return

The Reality of Vick’s Return

Public relations is the real reason behind right-wing NFL owners’ reluctance to give “ex-con” quarterback Michael Vick a second chance.


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Michael Vick

Michael Vick has been reinstated by the National Football League. But there’s no guarantee that he will ever see the field.

“I urge you to take full advantage of the resources available to support you and to dedicate yourself to rebuilding your life and your career. If you do this, the NFL will support you,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“Opportunities for redemption are rare–but that is exactly the opportunity that awaits Mr. Vick,” chimed in Ed Sayres, president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Both men, in their way, were attempting to put the best possible spin on Vick’s return to the NFL. After serving twenty-three months in federal prison at Leavenworth for running a dogfighting ring–an ironic sentence considering the fact that a warmonger like Dick Cheney still roams free–Vick can now sign with an NFL team after a suspension that can last as long as six games.

While in prison, Vick met with the president of the Humane Society of the United States. He also will be working with groups aimed at steering young people away from dogfighting. By all accounts, Vick is profoundly remorseful. And if you had to declare bankruptcy and spend two years in Leavenworth, you would also be feeling a share of regret.

Vick said in a recent statement, “As you can imagine, the last two years have given me time to re-evaluate my life, mature as an individual and fully understand the terrible mistakes I have made in the past and what type of life I must lead moving forward.”

Goodell’s decision comes in the wake of several players showing their support for Vick on Twitter and even challenging the very idea that he could be suspended. It started with Terrell Owens, who tweeted, “Who’s w/me on the Vick situation? All n favor, lemme get a tweet 2 support Mike Vick! He did the time 4 the crime! Let the guy play!!”

Former pro bowler Steven Jackson added, “Playing is a priviledge…But who has not sin? Who can I say I haven’t made a mistake? Don’t forget this will follow him the rest of his life. If serving time 4 the crime is not enough then what is? Don’t agree with 4 games, 23 months is enough.”

Nonguaranteed contracts and Goodell’s role as judge, jury and executioner of the league usually breed a kind of passivity, and this kind of public display of support by NFL players is rarer than a Detroit Lions playoff appearance.

But none of it means a lick unless one of the NFL’s thirty-two teams takes a chance and signs Vick, which is hardly guaranteed. It’s a preposterous scenario. The NFL continues to employ J.T. O’Sullivan, Trent Edwards and Dan Orlovsky–quarterbacks who couldn’t throw a tantrum, let alone a touchdown. They also employ players who have been convicted for manslaughter, spousal abuse and everything short of molesting pandas.

Yet Michael Vick could remain radioactive for some time. It’s hard to believe that NFL owners care deeply about animal rights. According to political donations, a typical NFL owner runs slightly to the right of Ghengis Khan.

In fact, if they cared so deeply about animal rights, NFL owners would be publicly disavowing Sarah Palin.

What they really care about is public relations. It’s a public relations refracted through the very lens of the casual, mainstream racism that defines the modern Republican Party. Just as the ever-shrinking right wing clings to notions of Obama’s birth certificate being invalid and are shocked that Henry Louis Gates Jr. may have a problem with being arrested in his own home, the idea of seeing an “ex-con” like Vick as being worth a damn is an entirely foreign concept.

The very political forces–and they are bipartisan–that have made the United States the prison capital of the world are at work in the saga of Michael Vick. To insist that he deserves another chance is to admit that all ex-prisoners deserve to be seen as human beings and not simply statistics. For African-Americans, 9.2 percent of whom are behind bars, the urgency is even greater.

Whether you believe Michael Vick got a raw deal or think he deserved every last day of those two years in Leavenworth, people should collectively agree to pressure the owners of NFL teams to sign this man. Not just because he is good enough. Not just because he deserves any kind of a career comeback. But because if Michael Vick can’t get a shot at redemption, if he is forever tainted, then where does that leave the millions still under the thumb of Prison USA? It’s time for Michael Vick to get his second chance, for everyone who never even got a first.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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