Michael Vick is the sociopath the NFL needs this season. He is talented, fearless and an ex-con dog-killer turned hero who is set to begin a redemptive journey.
He is going to try to save football, and I will gladly watch every minute of it.
The league seems to have solved its labor problems, which is a start. Nothing hurts productivity more than discontented workers. But the basic issues—drug use, head traumas and underclass behavior—are still on the table.
Hardcore fans will be able to look past such distractions, but the more casual fan will be disturbed—and possibly turned off—by a pile-up of dead, 55-year-old demented 300-pounders, the obvious use of performance enhancers, rape, assault and DUI by role models.
Here’s where Michael Vick comes in. He clears the air, makes it plain that the NFL is no longer trying to pass itself off as a metaphor for the American Dream.
Football is the American Nightmare, the thrilling thrashing of a dying empire with predominately black gladiators getting it off for middle-class white softies. And nobody says gladiator better than Michael Vick.
At the end of last season, Buzz Bissinger, a Philadelphia lad, stated in The Daily Beast that “The truth of sports is that performance always trumps character. The truth of sports is that performance always excuses character.”
Bissinger went on to say that Vick should be forgiven because he served his jail time, his words of contrition seemed honest and he had learned to stay in the pocket.
Still sounds good to me. Except for the forgiving. I like dogs more than I like football. We don’t have to forgive Vick, we just have to own up to the fact that the kind of cold thug who could bankroll a dogfight ring and help kill losers is the guy we want fronting our Seahawk team six fantasies of football as guilt-free war.
He’s the kind of performer who can keep us focused on the game instead of the so-called concussion discussion or the steroids witch hunt. This is a good thing. Once you start thinking about those issues, the guilt creeps back. And you might even start worrying about the kids. Should they be playing the game? Should you be watching games with them? Should you be a football fan?
The process of brain disintegration doesn’t begin at Lambeau Field but on thousands of pee wee fields where children are still learning to “put a hat on him.” Get good enough, kid, and you’ll start for a high school that can attract million-dollar naming rights for its stadium. (But maybe not pay doctors and trainers to be in attendance at games.)
More and more parents are opting for no football for their kids. No surprise that a newspaper columnist thinks keeping his kid (big kid, nicknamed Moose) off the gridiron is a “no-brainer,” but when the likes of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Brad Culpepper, former Pro Bowl linebacker Jack Del Rio and former Super Bowl champion coach Jon Gruden eschew tackle for flag football, we can see the beginning of a trend that doesn’t bode well for the NFL’s future.
There is a correlation between trauma and steroid use—if nothing else, the increased size of players has increased impact—and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the thuggish behavior, on and off-field, can be blamed on drugs and/or brain damage.
Not so probably for the white-collar thuggishness of owners trying to mug cities with stadium deals and commissioner Roger Goodell’s attempt to mug all of football. His amazing recent decision to suspend Terrelle Pryor for NCAA infractions was a power grab by someone who seems to want to control all of football, perhaps down to Pee Wee, the way the Frances dominate stock-car racing or the McMahons pro wrestling. (This is all best explained by my friend and Bleacher Report colleague, Brendan O’Hare.)
But Michael Vick playing well gets us past hypocritical standards, less than rigorous drug-testing or even maimed kids. Michael Vick playing well means this is a game in which character may be a burden. (Giving Plaxico Burress a shot at redemption might take the Jets to the Super Bowl.) Michael Vick playing well will let us focus on the only thing that matters—the game itself.
Once we get all that straight, we can climb down from righteousness, kick back and revel in Michael Vick playing well, even if it means the end of the world. Especially.
Robert Lipsyte’s most recent book is his new memoir, “An Accidental Sportswriter.”