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”?