Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Let Vick Squirm

Michael Vick was indicted by a federal grand jury on Tuesday for "conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities, as well as to sponsor a dog in animal fighting venture," according to ESPN.

I'm not going to get into how sick and depraved dogfighting is (Smoking Gun has the full indictment at their website if you want to read the full, ugly details, and the AP's story breaks down the grisly details) but what the NFL should do to Michael Vick.

They should, in essence, do nothing. For now.

While Vick is definitely guilty of owning the property where the dogfighting took place, the question of his involvement is still a matter to be resolved legally. Yeah, he's guilty. I know it, you know it, Vick's always known it and now his employers - the Falcons and the NFL - know it, or at least can no longer deny it behind closed doors. There's no need, however, to rush a severe, season-long penalty at Vick until either the legal process runs its course or Vick admits to his involvement. Once we know - legally or from Vick - that he was involved, drop the hammer on him.

Until then, let him squirm.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could suspend Vick, of course, but on what grounds? Indictments don't carry nearly the same weight as a conviction and the burden of proof is much less. Jason Cole (Yahoo! Sports) quotes a league source saying: "Where (Vick) is in the most trouble is that he lied to the commissioner. He told (Goodell) in April that he didn't know anything about this. The commissioner gave (Vick) every chance to come clean, be straight about what was going on. Instead, he just kept denying it."

Suspending Vick for lying seems almost petty in the face of the more serious dogfighting charges. (Not that lying to the commish is petty, of course, just that I don't think it carries the same punitive weight as being involved in an illegal activity such as dogfighting.) If Goodell does suspend Vick for this, I'm all for a shorter 4-6 game suspension and not the half- to full-season suspensions Goodell has handed out to Tank Johnson, Pacman Jones, and the entire Cincinnati Bengals roster. The big suspension is coming.

If you're having trouble following my logic, please remember that I'm evil. Borderline, at least, and I know that the court of public opinion is going to punish Vick much more severely than the commissioner's office can at this point.

The Humane Society has already announced they're going to call for Vick to be dropped by the league, the club, and his sponsors. PETA and other groups will follow.
The pressure the public can exert at times like this can be severe, slow to build, and agonizing. Both on the athlete and their companies. When the Humane Society asked Nike to drop Vick earlier, the company said No. We'll see how they react this time around.

They're certainly not going to like their name and logo associated with every story and column written about the Vick dogfighting case from now until completion.

Not that I'd do anything like that.

Far from it.

CNBC's Darren Rovell has a statement from Nike spokesman Brian Facchini saying, "We are aware of the indictment and are reviewing the information. We have no further comment at this time."

Surely complicating things for Nike (because they are a corporation and thus put their own profit above everything else) is that they're weeks away from launching the new Michael Vick shoe. Rovell writes, "Vick's signature shoe, the Nike Air Zoom Vick IV D, is currently on the shelves selling for $84.99. The "D" stands for detachable. The Zoom Vick V is scheduled to launch in two colorways on August 23 and the suggested retail price is $100. The shoes will likely arrive at retailers in three weeks."

If anyone takes Vick off the field for an extended time right now, it should be the Atlanta Falcons. They can make a case that a player under indictment is a distraction and a hindrance to the success of the franchise. The problem is that if you send him home you still have to pay him, but for the sake of the team, the Falcons would be best served taking that course - send Vick home, and let everyone know that if/when he's found guilty you will release him, but that you have to respect the legal process. Re-brand the team around the city with another face of the franchise - someone like Warrick Dunn, perhaps, who has done yeoman's work for the community though his Warrick Dunn Foundation charity.

I understand that everyone wants to rush in and punish Vick right now - I know I do, at least. But there's a reason why we have a legal system and why a presumption of innocence is key to the U.S. legal system. If the government does its job and proves its case, Vick's headed to jail.

Which is a pretty good suspension from here. I can wait for it.

After all, the real victims in this crime - the dogs at Vick's Bad Newz Kennel - have already been removed from Vick's influence.


trout said...

I agree with the wait-and-see approach, but Goodell's hand may be forced as the regular season quickly approaches. Hell, training camp -- and Madden '08! -- are right around the corner, and I think it'd be a nightmare for the NFL if Vick took the field under these circumstances.

baloo said...

I think the NFL should take their time determining his punishment, but I have to disagree about the presumption of innocence. Only the courts have to presume you innocent until proven guilty. We don't. And busnesses certainly don't. People are fired for getting arrested on a regular basis. NFL teams have been releasing players for getting arrested (see Pitt, Oak, Cincy, and Miami). Pacman Jones was suspended for a full season for being charged, but not convicted.

So I think the NFL should look over the evidence available to them, and if they determine that Vick's guilty, then they should determine their punishment. If the Feds are withholding evidence from the league (and that's likely), then the league has to wait to hand out a punishment. But as things come out, the NFL and the Falcons can act on that. The new personal conduct policy also allows it. While ESPN keeps saying that the policy only applies to multiple offenders, that's incorrect. There's a qualifier in the language that allows first time offenders to be suspended (and remember, if a conviction was necessary, Pacman couldn't be suspended). So since Vick's actions were long-term, they can suspend him, imo. But you're right that they should wait until they have more solid footing. Right now, they might lose a lawsuit and that would open up other lawsuits by guys that were released.

Back to the presumption of innocence, college football assumes guilt. You're suspended while charges are pending. I don't see why the commish or the Falcons can't do the same. The Falcons will probably give him a leave of absence (and that's fair), but I'd like to see them Keyshawn him. It's allowed and while Vick would still get paid, he'd essentially be banished.

MBQ said...

All good points, Baloo and I don't really disagree with any of them. I think there's a difference between the NFL and the Falcons, though, just like there's a difference between the NCAA and each collegiate institution.

I don't think the NFL should give Vick a major suspension right now - as a league I think they should wait until there's more proof of guilt. I did say, though, that I'd be okay with the league giving him a shorter, 4-6 game suspension based on what's known (and your point about this being a long-term activity by Vick is a good one), but the half-season to full-season suspension needs to wait, I think.

The Falcons, though, would have every right to suspend him/send him home now for a game, eight games, 16 games, etc. because their concen isn't just about fairness but about the operational success of their franchise. If they Keyshawn him, I'd be thrilled and I think they can (and probably should) do it.

This franchise is going to need to turn the page on Vick at some point in the next year and the sooner they can do it, the better.