Michael Vick Returning To NFL? Maybe In Dog Years

Ben CarderCorrespondent IMarch 28, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 16:  Jags fans taunt the Atlanta Falcons with a sign in reference to Falcons quarterback Michael Vick while facing the Jacksonville Jaguars at Alltel Stadium September 16, 2007 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Jaguars defeated the Falcons 13-7.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

On that day, and for months prior to it, media members throughout the country snapped photos of animal rights activists and outraged citizens screaming obscenities at the former Hokie, while holding giant “Neuter Vick” and “Kick Vick” signs.

Although that day was more than a year and a half ago, and in a little less than four months, Michael Vick’s life goes on, outside the load-bearing walls of the Leavenworth Penitentiary.

Considering the heinous nature of Vick’s crimes, not to mention the enormous response it garnered from PETA members and dog lovers everywhere, one has to question whether Vick’s life will ever return to normal.

The notion of “time healing all wounds” may be true in most instances, but the wounds Vick inflicted on canine lovers remain quite fresh.

Take NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as exhibit A.

Goodell suspended Vick four months before he was formally sentenced to his 23-month jail stint, but it appears Goodell remains quite hesitant to consider reinstating him in 2009 and beyond.

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“Everyone makes mistakes, but he has to show that genuine remorse in his ability to be a positive influence to correct the things that he did wrong publicly,” Goodell told USA Today after this past Wednesday’s annual meetings wrapped up in Dana Point, Calif.

In short, Vick’s paying his debt to society may not have been enough.

The question becomes, then, what does Goodell consider “genuine remorse?”

Is genuine remorse publicly apologizing, a la Jason Giambi or Andy Pettitte, after their “juice issues?"

That seemed to be enough in the eyes of baseball fans, as both players are now free and clear of the baggage steroid use typically carries with it, especially for those who refuse to acknowledge their mistakes or whose apologies seem disingenuous (see Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens).

Or does “genuine remorse” involve apologizing to those specifically hurt by the scandal, as Kobe Bryant did to the woman he allegedly raped in 2004?

Even though Bryant was never suspended by the NBA, that seemed to be enough for fans and endorsement companies, as Kobe Bryant’s jersey is now back among those top sold, he’s resumed, once-terminated endorsement deals, and is the cover man for a veritable smorgasbord of video games (e.g. Guitar Hero commercials and NBA ’09: The Inside).

Based on the public outcry then and the dismay of his being released now, animal cruelty is an issue that resonates with people, more than shootings and more than murder charges.

For example, to avoid jail time, Ray Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and a misdemeanor after a Jan. 31, 2000 incident he was involved in, which left two men  dead.

Despite his legal flap and one-year probation sentence, Lewis was never suspended by the NFL, was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year the very same year, and has been a Madden NFL cover boy.

Adam “Pacman” Jones, despite his numerous off-the-field legal issues—virtually all of them involving a gun—was given full reinstatement after a one-year suspension in 2007.

While it’s true, the Cowboys have since cut ties with Jones (due to some damning information about Jones’ involvement in a 2007 strip club shooting that they’d previously not known about), there didn’t seem to be any real “genuine remorse” shown by Jones, and Cowboys fans considered Jones’ “debt to society” enough of a payment to justify his return.

These cases aside, Goodell’s hesitancy to reinstate Vick is best illustrated by the country’s current banking crisis: There’s lots of money on the sidelines, and banks know that if they make loans they could vastly improve their financial state, and in so doing, the country’s economy. But due to fear of the unknown, and their desire to learn from history's tough lessons, their loath to make loans.

Similarly, Goodell knows what a talent Vick is and knows that Vick’s return to the NFL could be a huge boom for the brand, both from an intrigue and financial perspective.

Though like the banks, Goodell is afraid to pull the trigger for fear of being burned again, either by fan reactions, or Vick himself.

While the economy will eventually bounce back—at least that’s what the pundits and prognosticators keep assuring us—the same eventuality can’t be applied to Vick.

And based on the public outcry leading up to Vick’s sentencing and his July 20 release, my guess is his eventual forgiveness will be measured in dog years, taking seven years for the public to forgive what other crimes would take only one.

By that time, the dog fighting wounds will have scabbed over, but they’ll have been replaced by an aged body.

Then, it will be Goodell expressing “genuine remorse,” as Vick will be a shell of what he once was.

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