Crime and Punishment in the NFL?

Geek!This is Catherine Forsythe’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

Is there redemption in the National Football League (NFL) for a convicted athlete? That will be a question that the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell will have to answer in the summer of 2009. At the moment, former Atlanta Falcon quarterback Michael Vick is serving a prison term in Leavenworth for his involvement in a dog fighting operation. Michael Vick may be eligible for release in July 2009. He will be twenty nine years old and quite possibly still able to quarterback a professional football team.

The question is ‘will the NFL allow Michael Vick’s return?’. – There is no doubt about Michael Vick’s athletic ability. His football skills could mean that a team contends for a championship and that translates into a huge financial windfall for a franchise.

There will be those who will argue that Michael Vick should be allowed to return to his profession. Football is his craft. It is his livelihood. He has paid the legal penalty and satisfied the legal consequences. He has served his time; and it would be argued that he should be allowed to continue, in his chosen profession, to make a living.

Those opposed to Michael Vick’s return to the NFL may consider that his behaviour was so heinous that he deserves a life-long ban from professional football. That would mean that he would not be allowed to participate in the NFL in any capacity. There would be no affiliation whatsoever. Dog owners and pet people will say that Michael Vick killed dogs, in a cold blooded, calculated manner. And they would be correct. Dog owners and pet people form a powerful demographic.

Is the NFL obligated to its fans to present what appears to be an untainted image? Football, after all, is entertainment and Michael Vick’s former off field activities would continue to follow him, if he resumed his NFL career. Would it be a wise business move for the NFL, in terms of image, to allow Michael Vick to return to professional football?

It is a decision that Commissioner Roger Goodell will have to make. It will set a precedent, not only for Michael Vick but for athletes who will run afoul of the law. And truly, Commissioner Goodell is in a no-win situation. He will be pilloried if he allows Michael Vick’s return. A ban of Michael Vick from the NFL would draw an equally strong reaction. No matter what the decision is, the matter of race will enter the discussion.

If Michael Vick was not a professional athlete, would the decision be any easier? For the sake of argument, if Michael Vick was a day care worker involved with young children and convicted of these crimes, should he be allowed to resume his chosen career with kids? That alone is not a simple decision. The dilemma that confronts Commissioner Goodell is that this decision involved millions of dollars and there is the consideration of protecting the image of a beloved product. Football is a national American institution; and there are matters of image and what the football fans will accept.

Undoubtedly, there will be focus groups to tap into the opinion of football fans. Does the personal off-field conduct of a professional athlete matter? Was football Coach Vince Lombardi correct when he said “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”?

14 thoughts on “Crime and Punishment in the NFL?”

  1. As a dog-owner, I was completely outraged with Vick’s involvement in dog fighting. And the crime is still going on. Chicago police were able to break up a dog fight in progress recently.
    Nice article. I like your comparison to the daycare worker. Didn’t think of it that way before.

  2. Beautiful article, Noggie. I absolutely feel that Vicks should never be allowed to return to the NFL. As a professional athlete, he is held to a higher standard than most of us in “normal” jobs – simply because he is a role model to young people. For that reason above all others, I feel that the punishment doled out to athletes convicted of crimes like this should be stringent.

    Keep Vicks on the bench – permanently.

  3. I don’t have an opinion strictly, because each person is a new and different case. On the whole, however, I think he should be given a chance to come back after he pays his debt to society in jail — and should have to pay an additional debt by the football world of doing charity work in the field of animal care, forEVER. The NFL still gives penalties, no?

    On a different vein of thought: It does raise an interesting question of whether anyone should be allowed back depending on what crime they commit. If Vick had done crimes against people, especially to children, what then? Let him back? Hmm.

  4. Everyone deserves a second chance.

    If the NFL can allow murderers of human beings to continue to play the game it can allow murderers of animal beings to play as well.

    I believe it will all boil down to how much the animal rights contingent is willing to press the sponsors of the NFL. If sponsors leave, Vick will not be back.

    Good subject/article Catherine.

  5. Ahhh, leave it to Catherine to tackle this issue. She is a noble champion of citizen journalism and always has clear insight and an excellent communication style to formulate discussion around important topics. Unfortunately, professional athletes and celebrity stars have become the gods and goddesses of American pop culture. The real heroes and heroines, in my book, are the Earth Healers who are working on environmental and social justice issues and serving as purveyors of peace. The Michael Vicks of the world are part of the problem, and not part of the solution that is so desperately needed today. This man is a brute who harbors criminal intent. Keep him off the playing field and out of the limelight. He is not a role model for anyone!

  6. This is a thought provoking article that raises compelling issues.

    I do not follow football. My sport is baseball and baseball only. I find football to be a sport of war. The athleticism of the participants is overshadowed by the blunt force used to execute the game. Football will never be called “the gentleman’s game”. The fans would surely be displeased if it were.

    I am also a vegetarian. I don’t eat animals let alone condone their mistreatment. The crime Mr. Vick was accused of is nauseating. I would be hard pressed to ever forgive someone who mistreats any living creature regardless of whether they had paid the legal penalty.

    The issue of a player returning to the game after a criminal conviction is using the language these businesses favor in order to frame the discussion. While the “game” is entertainment, the relationship between the player and the NFL is one of employer and employee. Sports entertainment is a business first and foremost. I am not a lawyer (IANAL), but the question facing Mr. Vick and the NFL are those of employment law and profitability not of morality or ethics.

    The NFL has a brand just like any other business. They have every right to decide if a hire of an employee would affect the image of that brand. The NFL is not obligated to do anything outside of what is legally required of them. Like any business, the NFL should be making wise business decisions. As a holding company of sorts, they should be asking what effect hiring Mr. Vick will have on revenue for the companies (teams) it represents.

    The sticky wicket in all of this is the real and effective monopolies the NFL, MLB and other major leagues businesses have in their respective markets. I don’t know enough about the law to understand how “at will employment” is addressed in the case of a monopolized market.

    Separately, I question the analogy of a day care worker convicted of these crimes and a football player reentering the market of professional athletics. The crime Mr. Vick was convicted of is completely unrelated to the business he was in: “No animals were harmed in the making of this football game.” This in no way invalidates a business from considering the impact on revenue of hiring someone with a high profile criminal conviction.

    As a friend of mine in the wealth management industry is fond of saying of stock brokers who act in the best interest of their clients, “it is always about the money and it is only about the money”.

    Ms. Forsthye’s writing never fails to cause me to think carefully and differently about the topics she covers. She is the only writer who has the ability to engage me in a way that makes me want to be an active participant in the conversation. Thank you Ms. Forsthye!

  7. I’ve always called the NFL by this nickname: the National Felons League. Every time you turn around, someone from there is getting in trouble for something. Do they really think that no one is watching or will excuse their behavior just because they are on TV? I haven’t watched a football game since Boomer Eisiason broke his leg in a Superbowl, and I don’t intent to start watching now.

    Now, if we could get more people that start foundations to help people, I’d be more impressed. But there’s just too few of the good guys to make football interesting to me.

  8. Of course Vick should be reinstated. Isn’t Matt Jones, Nick Kaczur, Jared Allen, Sebastian Janikowski and Jeremy Stevens still on rosters? What was Goodell’s response when the owner of the Steelers said that James Harrison had a “good reason” for the domestic abuse charge (and subsequent plea) against his girlfriend? Clearly the stands of NFL stadiums are not filled with people who care so much about the plight of animals….not while they’re munching on hotdogs, chicken wings and hamburgers they’re not. Its ridiculous to think Vick wouldn’t be reinstated when domestic abuse, federal drug charges and manslaughter hasn’t kept any player from being banned.

  9. It’s sad state of affairs and an out-and-out travesty that these things continue to plague any sport. It is evident to me that Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress are just the tip of the iceberg, as can be attested by the Packers of late! We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot (Lord,please don’t let them arrest the entire franchise until there is not one iota of a chance that we are completely out of it!), but the green and gold coursing through my veins continues to run, albeit rather thin!

  10. The NFL has a responsibility to it’s younger fans who look up to football players as role models. What Michael Vick did to those dogs will follow him the rest of his life . His position as a role model for my three young sons is forever destroyed. Reinstating Vick into the NFL is just telling those young fans “don’t worry you can do the crime serve your time and all will be forgiven”. The NFL will with the world watching be making an important statement when they make their decision about Vick. A unprecedented decision that will show the moral integrity of our great country not only to the American people but to the rest of the world .

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