Wednesday, August 15, 2007
OK, cue the Michael Vick Forgiveness Clock ... starting ... now!
Vick, in conjunction with his legal team, has just seen the writing on the wall, which is in DayGlo letters 30 feet high that reads "YOU'RE GOING TO JAIL." They are, by all indications, negotiating a plea that will minimize his jail time and move him that much closer to what we are quite sure will be a semi-glorious return to the National Football League.
Depending, of course, on the frequency and abjectness of his apologies, and the depth and breadth of a team's needs behind center.
So we're all on the clock with Vick, seeking the answer to the complicated mathematical equation:
That is, Heinousness of Crime minus Marketability squared, divided by Time Served.
And the answer to that is not infinity, and rarely more than 24 months.
In short, we have confidence in Vick's ability to do the perp walk, and in SportsWorld's ability to look the other way when circumstances require. The seemingly irreparable damage caused by the details of his arrest and indictment will be minimized just enough to make him publicly serviceable again, not because we value dogs less but because we value quarterbacks more.
Not all of us, mind you. There are many people who will find his acts unforgivable. There are, however, many more who desire Vick's entertainment value more, and if there's anything Americans like more than entertainment, it is more entertainment.
Look, kids, that's how it works. Vick runs a dog-fighting ring. His associates turn on him like the Joe Valachi Dance Team. He is left alone to allocate his involvement in the systematic and violent torture of dogs in his care, because he's the only one on the left side of the table. Everyone else is gone with the dew.
So the math is easy, but so is the way back, and it will happen sooner than you think. It will be termed as our generosity of spirit, of course, and his willingness to see the error of his ways, wrapped in the unbridled power of redemption, because that's what makes the story sound better for everyone involved. What it is, though, what it always has been, is America's ability to hear a dollar bill fluttering in the breeze.
In short, Michael Vick is not only not finished, but he will be a starting quarterback in the NFL again, probably by 2009 but surely no later than 2010. The heinousness of the crimes will have nothing to do with it, because he has a better chance to make some football team better than, say, John David Booty.
We know this to be true because Don Imus just won a wrongful-termination settlement from CBS and is about to start at WABC Radio in New York. We know this to be true because O.J. Simpson's soon-to-be-revolting book is going to be published after all. We know this to be true because Marv Albert is still the voice of the NBA.
We know this to be true because it is the American Way - to make a fallen but marketable anti-hero into a marketable hero and pass it off as nobility.
Tuesday's news headlines just happened to commingle to remind us of that fact, especially the news that Vick just rolled on himself. The waves of outrage that came from the gruesome indictment details already made his exoneration a long shot, and when his friends bailed on him, no doubt confronted by evidence they could not escape themselves, he had nothing left to do but cop the plea.
But the cries that he is surely finished as an admirable figure in American sport ignore the fact that nobody is finished as an admirable figure in American sport, as long as that figure still can fill some marketing/profit-generating void. Vick has skills in a rarefied avenue of athletic endeavor - NFL quarterback - and though he is not everything he was advertised to be, he is still more useful than, conservatively, 20 of the 32 starters in the league.
His return, of course, is dependent upon a new owner's ability to sell him as fully repentant, and upon his basic affordability, but those are logistical issues. He presumably will go on the requisite apology tour (anyone who can plead out can plead, after all), and then his agent will find a place where his skills can trump his rap sheet.
Is this right? Depends on your view of how long someone must be punished for his crimes, your definition of forgiveness, and the state of your fantasy-league team. We long ago stopped seeing the wisdom in seeking out morality plays in athletics, because the phrase "purity of motive" never seems to settle any debate. It's all in what you can get by with, what you believably can sell.
So the Michael Vick Forgiveness Clock is on, and someone with a greater sense of public-relations equilibrium than you or I will bring him back to first face, and then play, the music. Lessons might be learned, but the first one remains, "He who can be sold to the audience, will be sold."
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