Vick deserves opportunity to play

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My wife has a huge heart when it comes to animals, dogs in particular. She has given our 11-year-old German Shepherd so many belly rubs that it rolls onto its side when it sees her coming. On hot days she'll put large chunks of ice into Ruby's water pan, and at dinner she'll mix in grilled steak or baked chicken because, in her opinion, dry kibble just isn't good enough by itself.

My wife also is among those who believe Michael Vick should get a second chance in the NFL now that his 23-month prison sentence for bankrolling an illegal dog-fighting operation is over. "Ban him from owning a dog," she told me last weekend. "But let the man earn a living."

Can I get an amen?

The debate about whether Vick's indefinite suspension should be lifted by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is as tiresome as the speculation about whether Brett Favre will return for another season. Vick has done his time, lost most of his money and been publicly disgraced. His name has been indelibly stained by the admission that he tortured and killed dogs.

Enough is enough. It's time for him to have an opportunity to return to work. Notice I said opportunity.

If Vick knocks on the office door of each of the league's 32 owners and, one by one, is turned away, so be it. He has no one to blame but himself. But to unilaterally prevent the former star quarterback from playing because of fears about how fans or sponsors might react would be hypocritical at best, shameful at worst.

If the NFL can give second chances to gamblers (Art Schlichter), drug traffickers (Tamarick Vanover and Bam Morris) and those who commit vechicular homicide while driving drunk (Leonard Little) -- yes, I consider killing someone while driving drunk to be murder, even if the law doesn't -- it should give Vick the opportunity to resume his career. It's true that none of the aforementioned transgressions took place on Goodell's watch, but it's also accurate that none of those players, prior to reinstatement, was punished as severely as Vick.

The argument that Vick's return would cause a loss of fans or sponsors is laughable. The NFL is the Gulliver of professional sports leagues. Its game is bigger than any one individual, including Vick. The vast majority of fans just want to be entertained, as we've seen time after time when crowds have cheered wildly when a fallen star has returned and played at an elite level.

Vick isn't the first player to participate in dog-fighting and he won't be the last; I'm told there are active players still attending these despicable events. And yet there seems to be this push to make an example out of him. Where was this type of outrage when former members of Congress admitted to being members of a group that committed the same heinous acts on African-Americans that Vick did on some of his dogs?

Vick's actions were repulsive and worthy of strong punishment. However, if he truly has accepted that what he did was wrong, Goodell should heed the words President Bush said in his 2004 State of the Union address while discussing legislation to help convicted criminals re-enter society.

"America," he said, "is the land of the second chance." At last check Vick is still an American.