With Michael Vick out of jail, some fans are clamoring for a swift reinstatement, while others are appalled by the very notion. I've seen claims that he deserves a second chance, mention of his impressive skill, and disgust for his crimes.
I don't see how there can even be a debate.
Everybody who takes a stance on the Vick issue needs to understand that this isn't an issue constrained to dog and animal lovers against the effectiveness of the law system. Do not ponder whether or not he is sorry for his crimes and do not make claims regarding the debts he has paid in prison.
As far as the Vick debate is concerned, morality and consistency are the only factors.
First, take a look at the basic issue: Vick, a convicted felon of animal cruelty, is out of jail and wants back into the NFL.
Then, the question that arises is if he deserves to be reinstated. The repercussions of reinstating him and the legitimate reasons supporting the argument will make the better choice crystal clear.
Reinstating Vick: A Dangerous Precedent
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested he might be willing to reinstate Vick if he shows remorse, saying, "Michael did an egregious thing. He has paid a very significant price for that. If he's learned from that and is prepared to live a different life, I think the general public is forgiving of that when people are genuine and they show remorse and are prepared to live a different life. That's something he has to prove to myself and the general public."
Stop and consider Goodell's statement for a moment; ponder what it really means not just for Vick, but for all future situations. What Goodell has in mind is not explicit, but it is blatant: Vick can come back with saying, "I'm sorry."
If Goodell is going to allow that, then that could open the doors for any player to commit a crime and return with a mere apology.
Statistically, the next football felon won't be charged with dog fighting—what, then? Assault? Rape? Pedophilia? Murder? If Goodell approaches Vick with the mentality that the felon is penitent and deserves a second chance, then shouldn't he show the same considerations to a convicted murder? What about a convicted child rapist? "I'm really sorry for what I did. Please, let me play ball."
Take the analogy a step further to evaluate the inadequacies of the legal system. Imagine a football player who gets pulled over for speeding; the cops find a bloody knife in his car, which leads to the discovery of a murdered family. The case goes to trial and—surprise!—the cops didn't have a warrant, so the case gets thrown out even though every single piece of evidence (even if it was obtained unlawfully) points to that football player being a cold-blooded murderer. This football player was charged, but not convicted; surely he deserves to play football.
Truly, I am not even going to pretend to claim that murder is on the same level as animal abuse, but the NFL needs to draw a line, and, right now, the only line that exists is between seemingly remorseful players and unrepentant ones.
Crossing this line would be morally reprehensible. If Goodell actually goes through with this, he is opening up a moral can of worms that is uglier than most realize.
If Goodell is morally responsible and has adequate foresight, he would use this opportunity to outline in ink what the NFL can and cannot forgive.
A Misguided Fallacy: Vick Deserves a Second Chance
Make no mistake, I believe that Vick does deserve a second chance at life. Our entire law and penal system uses that concept as a cornerstone.
But here is the inconsistency: The innate right to a second chance at life is not the same thing as an innate right to the privileges that were previously enjoyed.
It is critical that everybody understands this difference.
Rights are innate. The right for Vick to have a second chance at freedom is innate.
Privileges are earned. The privilege for Vick to continue to play professional football is earned.
Just because Vick got out of jail and paid his debt to the law does not mean that he should automatically be given the same privileges prior to his conviction.
Consider a babysitter that was discovered to be a child molester. He goes to jail and then gets a second chance at live. Should he get a second chance at babysitting? The vast majority of people would say, "No," and for obvious reasons. These people are not denying that molester his right to a second chance at freedom; they simply realize that he has lost the privilege of watching children.
It is possible that Vick could, in fact, regain the privilege to play for the NFL, but the idea that he is being considered a day after getting out of jail is utterly absurd.
Look at Goodell's statement to realize the utter hypocrisy of reinstating Vick: "[Remorsefulness is] something he has to prove to myself and the general public."
Vick saying, "I'm sorry," weeping before the cameras, and beating his chest in penitence is nothing more than a moving show, even if it is genuine. Proof comes after Vick has spent more than 48 hours without committing a crime. At the very least, Goodell should wait until the end of Vick's probation.
Vick's ties to previous crimes indicate that he is prone to criminal behavior, so we can accurately make no judgements about his current morality until he spends time proving what kind of man he is.
American Heroes Degraded: Where is the Prestige?
Even though I believe the term "sports hero" is thrown around much too liberally, the fact of the matter is that many Americans—especially children—regard sports stars with a certain level of reverence.
I'm not going to make the easy argument that reinstating Vick will tell children that it's OK to be a criminal, because that is certainly a leap of logic. What I am going to state, however, is that the overall image of the NFL player will suffer.
Increasingly, teams are tempted to ignore a player's stats off of the field and focus entirely on his stats on the field. I'm not sure when a player's 40-yard dash became more important than his criminal record, but I believe there should be a certain level of dignity among sports professionals.
If sports stars are going to shape the perceptions of our youth and serve as exemplars for one of America's proudest sports, then, truly, the NFL needs to pick players by criteria other than skill.
Is it really too much to ask that sports stars who have thousands of fans and earn millions of dollars should be decent human beings?