It was only a matter of time.
Once NFL commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally reinstated Michael Vick, and once the respected Tony Dungy began singing a redemption song for the talented but ex-con quarterback, you knew a team would sign him. That it was the Philadelphia Eagles might be a surprise, but not that Vick is back in the NFL.
His talent was too tantalizing, the potential upside too great. As for those horrible acts he committed against animals, the years he financed a criminal enterprise, that positive drug test just before he went to prison, well, we can only assume that it got lost in Andy Reid's excitement over what Vick can do in the Wildcat offense.
I have made my feelings known about whether Vick should have been allowed to return to the league. I hope his signing by the Eagles brings the cancellation of season tickets and protests galore. I hope companies pull their sponsorship dollars and that Vick is greeted with boos, barks and thousands of Ron Mexico jerseys in every city he visits.
I also hope Vick doesn't slip up again, that he becomes the anti-animal fighting crusader he claims he will be, and millions of kids learn from his mistakes.
But what I hope for most of all is that we can drop the charade that Vick's return to the league is about anything more than a team believing he can help it win games. It is not about giving a felon a second chance, about helping him put his life back together or about acknowledging the debt he paid to society. It is not about some greater good, and that won't change no matter how many times Tony Dungy frames it that way.
Monica Yant, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, made a good point this morning via Facebook: "If [the Eagles will] pay $1 mil+ to give Michael Vick a 2nd chance, how about leading the charge to help ex-offenders citywide? Philly is home to 200,000 people with criminal records. Those with drug convictions are legally barred from ... jobs at airports, nursing homes or in security, but they can do most other tasks. And yet, few if any companies took the city up on $10,000 tax credits to hire ex-cons."
In other words, a city that routinely doesn't give its ex-cons a second chance, is now giving exactly that to Vick. Why is that? Here is how Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie framed it at the press conference announcing Vick's signing: "My hope as we go forward is Michael will prove his value in society. Whether he becomes a good football player again, it's possible. He's got an opportunity to become a good member of society. That's the goal here."
So Lurie signed him solely to help him become a good member of society? The football aspect of it was secondary?
After news of Vick's signing broke, I called a good friend who is a devout Eagles fan. I asked him if he would be placing all of his Eagles gear in a bin and setting it ablaze, and if he would protest by not watching their games this season. His response: "I don't like it but I'm not going to abandon my team just because they made a mistake and signed Vick. When my kids do something wrong I don't abandon them."
How convenient. Frame it as if he has some paternal mandate to stand by the Eagles after they've erred, as if the team were some poor little puppy who peed on the rug.
If you don't want to deny yourself the pleasure of rooting for the Eagles, even after they've done something you don't like, I'm fine with that. If the team believes winning is so important that it signs Vick despite all the crimes he has committed, I'm fine with that, too. But just call it what it is: fandom trumping morality, an attempt to win, no matter the cost.