posted by Mike Florio
The "C" word officially has made an appearance regarding the ongoing unemployment of quarterback Mike Vick.
The accusation comes from William C. Rhoden of the New York Times, who with the aid of the Reverend Jesse Jackson attempts to conjure a case for a claim of collusion.
"I want to make it an issue," Jackson told Rhoden, leaving us to wonder whether Rhoden raised the issue with Jackson or vice-versa. "I want teams to explain why they have a quarterback who has less skills but is playing or at least is on the taxi squad, and a guy with more skills can't get into training camp."
Jackson supports his position by explaining, "Democracy does not guarantee success. Democracy guarantees an opportunity. It's not fair to de facto try to lock him out of his right to compete. If he can't make the team, don't let him play. If he can, let him work."
But, you see, Vick had an opportunity. And he squandered it by getting involved in a lifestyle of fighting dogs against each other and betting on dog fights and killing dogs in all sorts of barbaric ways. So if NFL teams are a little reluctant to embrace him immediately after his release from federal custody, we're not going to assume that it's the result of an express or implied agreement among the owners to freeze him out.
And if there were such a deal, the man who works for all of the owners -- Commissioner Roger Goodell -- didn't get the memo before reinstating Vick only a week after his electronic ankle bracelet was removed. Goodell easily could have suspended Vick for a year or longer based on his deeds and his lies about them, notwithstanding the possibility of a revolt led by players like Terrell Owens.
The problem here is that neither Rhoden nor Jackson are considering the business realities that the 32 businesses that make up the NFL are facing. As we've previously explained, the timing of Vick's release from federal custody and the unexpectedly speedy reinstatement by the league office makes it difficult for any of these 32 businesses to engage in a proper cost-benefit analysis regarding whether Vick should be given a job, given that these businesses otherwise have been trying to sign rookie draft picks and otherwise prepare for training camp.
In a bad economy, the costs of giving a second chance to a guy who refused to do the same for multiple dogs deemed unfit to fight other dogs could be significant. It's simply too hard to predict on the fly whether ticket sales and merchandise sales and television ratings for the team that signs Vick will drop and, if so, by how much.
Then there's the question of gauging Vick's abilities after more than 30 months away from the game. Though we think he can still play at a high level, we'd never sign him to a contract without confirming it with our own eyes. But with training camps going on, there's only one way to kick his tires -- by flying him in. And as the Patriots and Steelers learned eight days ago, even a whiff of a Vick sighting in an NFL city will create a firestorm of rumor and speculation.
The problem is that no one wants to be linked to Vick before, and thus suffer the potential consequences, without knowing that Vick can actually help the team.
Rhoden also compares Vick to Jackie Robinson, undeterred by Rhoden's own acknowledgment that to do so borders on blasphemy. In Robinson's case, baseball owners showed courage because the inherently discriminatory approach to staffing major league baseball teams was wrong. In Vick's case, is it wrong for the owners of these 32 businesses to be cautious about giving a job to someone who might cause the business that does so to lose money because of it, without knowing what will be gained?
So we think it's way too early to suggest that NFL owners are colluding to keep Vick out. And we wonder whether Vick or his agent think it's helpful for anyone to pressure the NFL's franchises into giving Vick a job before one of these businesses is ready to do so.
We're not so sure that it is.
That said, there's a reason that the Patriots signed Andrew Walter instead of Mike Vick. But given the realities of modern business and the inherent fact that these specific businesses rely heavily on their image and relationship with the public, we don't fault any team for not pouncing on Vick only 12 days after he was given the green light to return to the NFL.
Maybe, at some point, it will be fair to suggest that collusion is occurring. For now, however, we think the owners merely are being prudent.