By George Dohrmann
July 20, 2009


Michael Vick, fresh off a 23-month federal prison sentence for financing and participating in the dog-fighting operation known as Bad Newz Kennels, should be banned from the NFL for life.

I say that even though the prevailing opinion among my colleagues at Sports Illustrated and other national voices, like William C. Rhoden of The New York Times, is Vick should be back in the league this season. They have written with conviction that when commissioner Roger Goodell reviews the matter, he should allow Vick's return. Rhoden wrote that Vick earned a second chance "by virtue of his incarceration," and's Peter King wrote: "I think there is no good reason why Michael Vick ... should not be reinstated to play in the NFL this fall. None."

For the record, I own two dogs: a yellow Labrador retriever and a mutt my wife rescued from a shelter. My stance that he should not be allowed to return to the NFL, however, has little to do with his abuse of animals. It is grounded in a desire for equitable treatment of all individuals, regardless of their athletic ability, and simple economics. Vick's crimes repulse me, but matters of fairness and finances are why, if I were Goodell, I'd meet with Vick later this month and inform him that he is banned from the NFL for life.

Let me start by debunking one common rationale offered in support of Vick's reinstatement: players who have done far worse have been allowed to return to the league. An oft-cited example is Leonard Little, the St. Louis Rams defensive end who killed a woman in 1998 when driving drunk. The NFL suspended him for eight games for violating the league's substance abuse policy, an appallingly light penalty. Then commissioner Paul Tagliabue erred in his handling of Little's case, which current commissioner Goodell implicitly confirmed when he indefinitely suspended Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth recently for committing the same crime as Little.

Still, some take the view that if Little received only an eight-game suspension for killing a woman, how can Vick get a more severe penalty for killing a few dogs?

This presupposes that the league and its fans can't move the line of tolerance. Goodell showed with his early handling of Stallworth's suspension that precedent does not bind him, nor should it. Vick's case is unique, and Goodell should treat it as such.

Vick didn't commit one heinous act; he financed and participated in an illegal operation for years. He is a repeat offender just by the nature of his crimes. In addition to the harm Vick brought upon animals, gambling also occurred at the fights run by Bad Newz Kennels. Vick also lied to Goodell and Falcons owner Arthur Blank when first questioned about his involvement. Violence + gambling + deception = three compelling reasons to banish Vick forever.

Is that fair? I think so, even if it goes against one of the loudest arguments made in favor of Vick's reinstatement: After serving a 23-month federal prison sentence, after losing all of his money, after being publicly humiliated, Vick has paid for his crimes. His debt to society fulfilled, he deserves the chance to rebuild his life via the NFL.

I realize celebrities are treated differently, but no job, especially playing in the NFL, should be considered a fundamental right. At a time when millions of people have lost their jobs, why is it unthinkable to some that Vick, after throwing away his football career, should be forced to ply a different trade than he did before?

To be sure, Vick can find work in football outside the NFL. The new United Football League might pay him $1 million or more a season. He could also get into coaching. Yet those who support his return to the NFL speak as if it would be a failure of the system for him to land anywhere but football's highest peak, that any opportunity short of that would deprive him of a shot at redemption. That is the narrowest view of what constitutes redemption, and it is flat wrong. Would he be insufficiently absolved if he spent the rest of his life working hard at a blue-collar job?

Some believe Goodell should let the market decide Vick's future. Reinstate him and see if a team is willing to sign him. This connects to another reason I believe Goodell should keep Vick out of the league: It's bad for business.

In one online poll, 71 percent of the more than 140,000 respondents replied "No" to the question: "Would you want your favorite team to take a chance on Vick when he gets out of prison?" To the question, "Should the NFL allow Vick back into the league?" people were more divided, with 58.1 percent believing he should be permitted to return and 41.9 percent in favor of a ban. That might appear to be a good sign for Vick -- a majority favored his return -- but Goodell can't be happy knowing that he would appease only 58.1 percent of the league's base if he allowed Vick to return.

A more relevant question, one not asked in the poll, would be: Would you stop supporting the NFL if Vick were reinstated? Among die-hard fans the answer would be a resounding "no." Vick or no Vick, they would support their team and play fantasy football. But what about the casual fan or the dog lover who has yet to totally embrace the league and its players? Goodell would lose at least some of those people, and that's not fiscally wise. Sponsors would also have to think twice about supporting the team that signs Vick.

Nothing about Vick's case for reinstatement moves me to the side of those advocating for his return to the NFL. To do so would be to provide preferential treatment to an undeserving athlete, and it would likely tarnish the NFL in the eyes of some fans or would-be fans.

I thank Vick for bringing needed attention to the issue of animal fighting. The Humane Society says 21 new laws have been passed against animal fighting since his arrest in 2007, and increased funding generated by the publicity from the case led to more education and enforcement. I'm glad he paid his debt to society; I wish him all the best in life. But to borrow (and slightly tweak) the works of my colleague Peter King:

I think there is no good reason why Michael Vick should be reinstated to play in the NFL this fall. None.


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