Michael Silver. Yahoo.com
The franchise quarterback had just suffered the most crushing defeat of his career and he needed to get away from it all. So the peeved passer headed to the backwoods of Mississippi, where he cleared his head by killing a defenseless animal.
Sorry, PETA, but the gun-toting quarterback in question was not Michael Vick. In fact, it was Peyton Manning, whose aim with a hunting rifle apparently is as true as it is with the ol' pigskin.
In January 2003, a couple days after the Indianapolis Colts' 41-0 playoff annihilation by the New York Jets, Manning went to a 12,000-acre spread in central Mississippi owned by a family friend and got his mind right. As he told me later that year, "You're out there hunting for deer and ducks, just you and your gun. It's peaceful and totally quiet, no cell phones or anything like that. It's a good detox, the type of thing that gets your batteries re-charged."
In other words: Bad news, Bambi.
This is not meant to be a shot at Manning, one of the sports world's good guys and, in fairness, one of the many NFL players who enjoys such recreational pursuits. There are plenty of reasons his behavior should not be compared to the alleged doings of the Train Wreck That Is Michael Vick, beginning with the fact that it was legal.
Some would also argue that it is more humane to put a bullet through an unsuspecting deer than to end the life of a canine in any of the hideous ways that the exiled Atlanta Falcons quarterback and his co-defendants are accused â€“ though I'm not necessarily sure the eight-point buck with the 18-inch spread that Manning had mounted on the wall of his Indy home would see it that way.
The larger point is that, as much as we're tempted to react to the federal indictment of Vick as though it contained the most heinous accusations against a football player since O.J. Simpson's, there's a whole lot of hypocrisy here.
For one thing, animals are put to death on a continuous basis, as I was just telling one of my fellow pet-lovers at a neighborhood barbecue while wiping away the hamburger grease that had dripped onto my suede Pumas.
It also must be noted â€“ and I am not defending the sick behavior of anyone who a jury decides has committed an offense such as electrocuting a pit bull â€“ that there are NFL players who've been charged with having committed deplorable crimes against actual human beings. Some of them have even been convicted, yet most of us manage to let it go when they do good things for the home team or emerge as value picks in the fantasy draft.
During my recent training camp travels, I stood in the St. Louis Rams' practice bubble watching 10th-year defensive end Leonard Little hone his impressive pass-rushing skills. The workout, which had been moved inside because of concerns about the hellacious heat, was closed to the public, but I didn't see any picketers outside.
To jog your memory, Little was the player who in 1998 drove home after celebrating his birthday, ran a red light in downtown St. Louis and caused a collision that killed another motorist, 47-year-old Susan Gutweiler. A breath test measured his blood-alcohol level at 0.19 percent, nearly twice the legal limit, and he eventually pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and spent 90 days in jail. When he returned to the Rams after an eight-game NFL suspension, Mothers Against Drunk Driving protested outside a Rams game, but few people outside of St. Louis seemed to notice, and Little went on to become one of the league's premier pass rushers.
It's a horrible story, but it might have contained at least a slightly redemptive touch had Little assuaged his guilt by urging others never to make the same mistake. He could have become a vocal and visible spokesman for consuming alcohol responsibly. He could have used his platform as a star athlete to try to save the lives of future drunk-driving victims.
Instead, Little drank and drove again. In 2004, Little was arrested for driving while intoxicated after being pulled over in Ladue, Mo., for speeding at 3:44 a.m. The arresting officer's affidavit stated that Little had "bloodshot, watery eyes and emitted an odor of alcohol;" that he had "attempted and failed three sobriety tests;" and that the player had "admitted to drinking alcoholic beverages."
Little, charged with a felony for driving while intoxicated as a persistent offender, was later acquitted after his lawyer convinced a jury that the arresting officer hadn't followed proper procedures in conducting the field-sobriety tests. Though another officer testified that he had administered a breath-alcohol test at the scene which showed that Little's blood-alcohol content was nearly double the legal limit of .08 percent, the test was inadmissible under Missouri law because of the unreliability of portable equipment. (After arriving at the police station, Little had refused to take a second breath-alcohol test.)
In other words, Little triumphed in court thanks to the legal equivalent of the Tuck Rule â€“ only with a far more subdued reaction by the offended party (in this case, anyone with a brain and/or a conscience) than that displayed by Raider Nation.
I always thought that MADD, which tried to draw attention to the case, was a robust, publicity-savvy advocacy group. But, apparently, PETA is the big leagues, and MADD is rookie ball. Then again, everyone, from the anti-war movement to the salty pseudo-scientists trying to convince us that global warming is a hoax, is a lightweight compared to PETA.
I'm not mad at MADD; I'm simply pointing out that Little â€“ and, for that matter, plenty of other NFL players whose behavior has been unconscionable â€“ is allowed to ply his trade without getting shouted down by the masses.
Meanwhile Vick, a man with no prior criminal record who has not yet been tried or convicted, is the NFL's version of TB on a plane. Falcons owner Arthur Blank was ready to suspend his franchise quarterback before commissioner Roger Goodell intervened and banished Vick from training camp, with no resistance from the NFL Players Association, which is supposed to represent Vick's interests. Now Goodell is preparing to shelve Vick for the entire 2007 season. The fallen star may never play another NFL down.
The biggest reason this is happening so quickly, prematurely and intensely is because of us. We're the angry mob shouting for justice, albeit via Internet chat rooms and sports-talk radio; ultimately, we're the ones empowering Goodell to act, with PETA doing the bulk of the legwork.
The allegations against Vick and the resulting outcry are tarnishing the brand, and Goodell, the owners who employ him and the companies which supply the league's ad revenues are highly aware of the stakes. Meanwhile, in terms of public reproach, other players are getting away with â€¦ well, crimes like involuntary manslaughter.
This is not meant to be flippant or to suggest a value judgment in any way, but it could be argued that right now, an NFL player would be less stressed about going on trial for domestic abuse than he would for dogfighting.
I can't predict whether another NFL player will follow Vick into court, but I can tell you that he's not the only one caught up in the animal-fighting culture. One of the league's best role models, New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister, concedes that the problem is more widespread than some outsiders may believe. "If you look at the big picture, cockfighting just got banned in Louisiana," he said last Thursday. "That helps put all of this in perspective."
When I asked McAllister, a native of tiny Lena, Miss., if he'd ever been invited to a dogfight, he laughed and said, "Come on, I'm from the country."
Now think about this: There is a player on an NFL roster with an image of two dogs fighting tattooed on his lower back. If PETA figures out who he is, this could add new meaning to the term "bad ink."
For what it's worth, the player in question is from the South, but his name is not Michael Vick.
If that disappoints you, take heart: It's not Peyton Manning, either.
Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.
"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm".
Henry David Thoreau
Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.
"Luck is the residue of design." - Branch Rickey