Wednesday June 3rd, 2009

When someone gets out of jail, we always say that person has "paid his debt to society." It's sort of an odd expression, isn't it? In jail, a person's simply removed from society. It's when he gets out that the bill comes due, that he's supposed to avoid whatever landed him in jail in the first place. Only when he succeeds in doing so does society profit on the debt.

It's a sure bet that now that Michael Vick is out of the slammer, he will never again involve himself with dogfighting. The uncertainty, really, is what society will allow him to do, whether, specifically, it will allow him to again play football, a thing he did very well indeed.

Perhaps no NFL team will want him. Vick would be the cynosure of hatred, for many consider him despicable. Heinous and wicked -- can you live with those, too? Inhumane -- perhaps the worst thing a human can be called. A liar -- something we know for a fact.

But before any team risks all the vitriol and agitation bringing Vick to camp would produce, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell must end Vick's indefinite suspension. He has time. Vick's criminal sentence doesn't officially end until July 20th. He knows what he's looking for, too. Before deciding, Goodell will meet with Vick and look for one thing: proper remorse.

That strikes me as a perfectly pointless exercise, a show trial. Of course, Vick will say he's remorseful. So what? He's already lied to Goodell's face. Why believe him now? Not even Solomon, or George W. Bush, who saw into Valery Putin's soul through the window of his eyes, would have a clue. Make the decision, Mr. Commissioner, without going through the sham of a heart-to-heart, face-to-face, Park Avenue photo-op.

Many believe Vick deserves further internal league punishment, even though he's been incarcerated, gone bankrupt and experienced disgrace. He dishonored the "privilege" of playing in the NFL, they say. Oh, please. Athletics is the prime meritocracy. If you're good enough, if you play by the rules of the game, you earn a place in the game. Goodell doesn't need to act as a pigskin St. Peter at the gridiron gates.

No, a better argument can be made, an argument that states Vick's very visibility is for the good, that states he should be allowed to play. Did you know, for example, that since Vick was indicted in 2007, 22 tougher state and federal laws dealing with dogfighting have been enacted?

Vick is a role model. I don't mean that facetiously. He is a role model for having it all and throwing it all away through stupidity, arrogance and sheer evil. If he gets to step on the field, he will remind us of how young athletes can so easily fall from grace. He will remind us of shame and hubris. He will remind us of cruelty to animals. He will pay his debt to society by helping us remember what we should not forget.

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