Some will be quick to label it a clear-cut case of double jeopardy, a draconian measure or liken it to "kicking a dead horse,'' but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday afternoon certainly did what he has long intimated he would -- in effect adding the potential of five more games to Michael Vick's two-year suspension.
In conditionally reinstating Vick to the NFL, with the caveat that he may be forced to sit out until Week 6 of the regular season, Goodell followed through on the message he's been sending Vick for some time: Only actions matter. Words will be meaningless in regards to the rehabilitation and resurrection of Vick's career. And that's exactly the way Goodell should have approached the situation. Taking time to assess Vick's deeds and not just accepting his intentions.
No matter which side you come down on in this story, one undeniable fact is that Vick's words will only carry their true weight once they're in concert with his actions. And to ascertain that, the NFL needed some time to view those actions over a longer haul and determine if they're in line with Vick's seemingly heartfelt expressions of remorse.
Remember, Vick's 23-month sentence ended just last week with the termination of his house arrest. Does anyone really believe that seven days was long enough for Goodell and the NFL to be convinced Vick is a changed man? Wouldn't it be better for everyone concerned, Vick included in the long run, if he got the ability to put his words into actions and prove to the NFL that he heeded the lessons of his recent life? That's not a goal worth waiting another 10 weeks or so for?
I fully understand that many feel Vick has paid a steep enough price for his dog-fighting ring and suffered much on many fronts as a penalty for his inhumane treatment of animals. But comparing his stiff penance with the transgressions of other professional athletes -- as many have done recently in the case of Leonard Little or Donte' Stallworth -- misses part of the point. It's not just about the potential injustice of different sentences for different crimes and arguing their relative merit. It's about giving Vick the best possible shot at successfully resurrecting his career, not just the most expedient shot.
The NFL taking a step-by-step approach might offend those observers who believe Vick's plight has been unduly burdensome already, but I think it gives the ex-Falcons quarterback the opportunity to make his strongest possible case that his mistakes of the past will not be made in vain. In this age of instant gratification, not having the details of Vick's future neatly wrapped up a week after he left confinement may be bothersome to many, but time really can be Vick's ally in this situation. The proof really can be in the pudding.
With time, we can know things about Vick and where he's headed from here that we would have necessarily only been speculating on and projecting today. Time will tell us if the support that the NFL talks about offering Vick, including a mentoring relationship with the most respected of league figures, former Colts head coach Tony Dungy, pays off in real measure. Time will show us if Vick's character has been strengthened by his experiences, or if he's inclined to now give in to those who would paint him as the victim or the martyr in this sad story.
And sorry, but in the star system that American society revolves around, let's not forget that Vick was not just another NFL player and he wasn't treated as one when he played or when he erred. He was the very face of the league for a time earlier in his career, when his breathtaking athletic skills and unique brand of quarterbacking made him the freshest new talent to hit the NFL in quite a while. To whom much has been given, much is required, and perhaps that's why the steep fall he suffered was from a pedestal much higher than most.
If nothing else, Goodell has been remarkably consistent in his regard to Vick. The commissioner said again and again that he wanted to witness real remorse from Vick before he would welcome him back into the NFL as a member in good standing. Implicit in that was that witnessing real remorse cannot be achieved over the course of one conversation.
Vick's days in jail might be over, but he has not yet done enough to fully reclaim his good standing in the NFL. There is at least now a road map for him to follow. Only time and the wisdom of his own decision-making stand between him and the complete restoration he seeks.