Michael Vick and Nike: the marriage of sports marketing at its savviest.
But the unintended consequences they berthed escape anything we've seen.
The same drivers in a reported deal to splatter the swoosh on Michael Vick governed CEO Phil Knight's decision to stick with Tiger through thick and, well, thick Perkins waitresses. Somehow, through an algorithm or software simulation, the company projects that 'Vick, the pitchman' is more valuable than trouble.
And so, four years since dubbing him damaged goods and parting ways, Nike wants back in.
They want Vick.
"Michael acknowledges his past mistakes," the company said in a statement. "We do not condone those actions, but we support the positive changes he has made to better himself off the field."
"Support" is intriguing rhetoric. Clearly the PR folk at the company mean, "encourage" and "back" and the like, faithul that Vick is in repair.
But "support" could also mean to vault, fortify or by other means prop up, in a sense, catapulting Vick back into public sociosphere. By making Vick their mouthpiece, Nike levies expectation and responsibility as much as voting their confidence.
Should we encourage endorsement contracts for athletes rehabbing their image, given the extra responsibility?
In other words, Vick is under the microscope. Again.
And here's where it gets interesting: In his regular rounds on Jim Rome is Burning, Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe shifted in his seat at the thought.
"I would've said no," he told Jim Rome. "(Vick) should be able to play in the league ... but (Nike is) actively saying, 'Let's have this guy sell stuff for us.' If you're hiring a spokesperson, that guy should have a little more tahn just being a good player."
It's a predictable reaction. People are quick to judge when their emotions take over.
But we're just as quick to cast off, discard those we see unfit—potentially wasting all kinds of value.
In hindsight, you saw that value in Starship Seven.
I propose we sift for it in Citizen Vick. Or wring it out of him.
Not only should we give the deal our blessing—this is free-market America, after all—we should demand the responsibility it carries. If the give was a second chance in the NFL, the take should mean walking the straight and narrow while everyone watches.
We should insist he tries.
Don't compartmentalize sports and society; that's just not how it is. And don't ignore their intersection: the malleable minds who watch. Kids, adults, black, white and everybody who's a football fan. (Meaning everybody.)
And if Vick—an export of urban Virginia and perpetrator of a near-irreparably damaging crime, making him identifiable to millions—can regroup and prosper to this end, who might that inspire? Who might that inspire, in a way that neither I, you, scare tacticians, parole officers nor motivational speakers can?
And what might the next reclamation project bring? Whatever it is, even if only a factory worker or family man, that's worth it.
(Especially if Nike and Vick profit, and consumers want them to.)
Why resist this? Let's say the contract was left up to public vote, with us holding the veto power of Bud Selig in a FOX broadcast deal (hypothetically speaking on both). Striking it down would be giving Vick an easy out.
Remember: It's not easy to shake the past—friends, family and decision-making—that fells so many. From what I've heard, Vick is trying:
"Vick is the kind of guy who looks you in the eye. If he’s selling, if he’s conning, he’s doing a great job of it," Sam Donnellon of the Philadelphia Daily News told me in November.
Still, it's easier to wander when you're irrelevant. When you're platform-less. When you're not the face of a $1.1 billion company (the Eagles' net worth on Forbes), and of the world leader in shoe sales.
Vick is all those and more, according to the $20 million franchise tender Vick signed with the Eagles (CBA pending), and the TBA value of this deal, likely in the $2 million ballpark of his and Nike's 2007 agreement.
As for Nike: they're accidentally playing the safeguard and the million-dollar check-and-balance and the rug that can so easily be yanked. After this investment, Vick can't cop out if he wanted to.
If he botches this, he loses everything.
Meaning: now is Vick's telling time.
"But how do you make that call now, so close to the incident?" Donnellon wondered. "You can’t. You have to see if he slips up. What happens when he gets his big money? When he gets put back on Madden—which is inevitable—people buy into his redemption story and buy his shirts?
Does he have another birthday party situation?
Right now, you’re working off of faith. Some people are working off of hope. But time’s the only resolution."
And, however accidental, a truckload of cash.