By Jim Trotter
August 19, 2007
At this point you would have to be deaf, dumb, blind, naive, ignorant, stupid, foolish, but mostly stubborn, to believe Michael Vick had no involvement in an illegal dogfighting operation.
Of the four men charged in the case, Vick is the only one who has not pleaded guilty. His co-defendants already have placed him in the middle of the action and identified him as the primary money man for the operation. The only way he's going to avoid a prison cell is if the O.J. jury is reconvened in Richmond, Va.
Barring that, the Atlanta Falcons star quarterback is going to do time â€“ first for the government, then for Commissioner Roger Goodell.
With that as a backdrop, people have begun debating whether Vick will be allowed to resume his career once his penance is paid and his suspension is over, provided it's not a lifetime ban. It's a question that has no answer at the moment. There are too many unknowns, too many variables.
An easier question to answer is whether Vick should be allowed to resume his career if he serves his time without incident, expresses remorse and takes steps to educate the public about the heinousness of dogfighting. The answer is an unequivocal yes.
What Vick is accused of doing is repulsive and despicable, and, if true on any level, he deserves the most harsh punishment the legal system has to offer based on the charges. But once he serves his jail time and completes his suspension under the league's tougher personal conduct policy, he should have a chance to resume his career. The reason is precedence:
In 1996, Pittsburgh running back Bam Morris pleaded guilty to marijuana possession in exchange for no prison time and the dropping of a felony cocaine possession charge. He got a second chance when the Baltimore Ravens signed him two months after the Steelers released him.
Morris didn't go straight from there â€“ he spent 89 days in a detention center for violating his parole and twice was suspended by the league for failing a drug test â€“ but the Chicago Bears gave him another second chance when they signed him after he was let go by Baltimore. Kansas City even traded for him in 1998, two years before he pleaded guilty to two federal charges that involved drug trafficking and money laundering.
Baltimore Colts quarterback Art Schlichter was suspended by the NFL for the 1983 season for gambling, which ranks No. 1 on the league's no-no list. But the former Ohio State star was later reinstated and signed by Buffalo. His return didn't last long, as he was banned for life after another gambling incident.
Kansas City wideout Tamarick Vanover spent two months in a federal work camp after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting the sale of a stolen vehicle that crossed state lines, but that didn't end his career. In fact, he got a second chance at a second chance in 2002, when the Chargers signed him to a one-year deal even though he had admitted to an FBI agent two years earlier that he gave a player $40,000 to purchase drugs.
Rams defensive end Leonard Little got a second chance after killing a motorist when he ran a red light and plowed into her car while legally drunk. Six years later, he failed several field sobriety tests and refused to be chemically tested for alcohol after being stopped for speeding. He beat the drunk driving charge in court when his lawyer argued in part that the officer on the scene failed to give Little the proper instructions.
These are just a few examples. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a double-murder case and his career wasn't taken from him. In fact, over time Lewis reclaimed his spot as one of the public faces of the league. By all accounts, he is a changed man for the better from his experience.
Could Vick learn and grow from his mistakes? Only time will tell. But this incident, as heinous as the allegations are, should not cost him his career. Gambling cuts to the core of the sport's integrity, yet Schlichter got a second chance. The illegal sale of drugs remains one of the country's most vexing problems, yet Morris and Vanover got second chances.
Vick deserves the same opportunity, but will he get it? Marty Schottenheimer was the coach involved when Morris and Vanover got second chances, one with Kansas City, the other with San Diego. And he admits that he would have a hard time giving Vick another opportunity.
â€œI think you have to look at the incidents themselves and my problem with this matter is, we're talking about killing animals that don't have an opportunity to defend themselves,â€ he said. â€œThey're tied, they're pinned and, if all they're saying is true, they're hung, then they're set on fire. That's murder. I have a real problem with that.
â€œYou can make a case that these animals have less of an opportunity to protect themselves from this action than a human being does. A human being has a chance to reason or at least run away. These animals were in pins; they had no opportunity to defend themselves. To me, I just find that almost as bad as murder. And you committed it if, in fact, you were involved with this.â€
Schottenheimer acknowledged it's a complicated matter on certain levels because of the caste and cultural aspects; in some poorer communities, particularly in the South, dog fighting is not viewed in the same way that it is by the larger public.
Will team owners take that reality into consideration when Vick seeks reinstatement â€“ yes, this assumes that he indeed will be suspended â€“ or will they bow to public pressure or their personal feelings about cruelty toward animals? Time will tell, but I keep coming back to the 2004 State of the Union address, in which President Bush, while discussing legislation to help convicted criminals re-enter society, said: â€œAmerica is the land of the second chance.â€
At last check, Vick is still a citizen of this country.[/b]
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