Guilty or not, Vick deserves everything coming his way

The Baltimore Sun

Let's all take a deep breath. Neither the NFL nor the Atlanta Falcons should kick out Michael Vick just because of an indictment, and just because he "sounds" guilty. It didn't happen with Kobe Bryant or Ray Lewis, and as we know now, it shouldn't have happened to the Duke lacrosse players.

OK, exhale.

Vick still deserves to suffer just for his name being linked with what it's being linked to. Just like Bryant and Lewis and the Duke lacrosse players. He will suffer. As harshly as those other examples were judged by the public, hourly and for a seemingly endless time, this might set a new standard.

Personally, I can't get past the idea, described in Tuesday's indictment of Vick on multiple charges related to dogfighting, of electrocuting dogs after they had lost. Or of slamming at least one dog to the ground until it was dead.

Not to minimize the aforementioned rape or murder charges - sorry, PETA, human suffering comes first on this priority list. But even if you stretch and acknowledge this as a sport - heck, we all swooned over the hot dog-eating contest a couple of weeks ago, so we haven't exactly set the bar high - can anyone justify living things sometimes fighting to the death, just so you can bet on it? That is heinous.

Worst, though, is the idea that a young man can parlay his talents into a $100 million contract and nationwide fame and visibility, and spend that capital on a dogfighting venture with his numbskull friends.

Maybe I'm just a square, but I would've given some thought to, say, a learning center in a poor neighborhood. Or something as mundane as a chain of sub shops. Hey, why not a charity golf tournament? I'd like to think that when Tiger Woods was pondering ways to put his riches to good use, he wasn't weighing the startup of the AT&T; National against building and equipping shacks to train fighting dogs.

It almost seems pointless and trivial to get mad at Vick on a football level. This is devastating on a humanity level. If this is all true, Vick has wasted his golden opportunity, shredding it as carelessly as his competing pit bulls shredded each other's throats.

It's hard to imagine an athlete losing his way worse than he did. You wonder if he ever was on the right path, considering that, according to the indictment, this operation has been in place since his rookie year.

He needs to hear about that as often as possible, even if it means hearing it on the field throughout the season, even if it means he keeps collecting a paycheck. Let's not forget the key phrase from the breakdown of the Duke case, "rush to judgment," and hope that there's no federal prosecutor channeling Michael B. Nifong. But he's fair game for the always-dreaded court of public opinion.

Vick brought it on himself. He'll have to deal with it - with the fan rage, with the disruption to his team, with his contribution to the NFL's ever-growing image as a harbor for criminals.

And, as a bonus, with his role in creating another wedge issue for the races to beat each other up about, another reason to run our mouths at top volume while de-activating our ears. Oh, goody, we haven't had enough of that this year. Thanks, Mike.

But before we plan the pity party for the Falcons and the NFL, remember this: The Falcons clearly went into their partnership with Vick with at least one eye closed. Should owner Arthur Blank, or any team official, have said, "You know, before we tie our future to this guy, let's make sure he's not doing anything crazy like dogfighting"? Sounds preposterous. But with that much at stake, why not go over the man's background with a fine-toothed comb?

As for the NFL, this is only the latest chicken to come home to roost. It spent a decade answering questions about its players' conduct with a steely glare, a smirk and a witheringly condescending remark. We've been over this ground already: Paul Tagliabue, the former commissioner and fraudulent Hall of Fame candidate, smart-mouthed his way through the storm clouds for years, and his successor has to clean up his mess.

All those years of unaccountability and consequence-free action are now twisting current commissioner Roger Goodell into knots, and he has been forced to lay a heavy hand on the miscreants.

He'll need to do it this time, too - if Vick is convicted, or pleads out, or flips on his co-defendants. Not a moment before. Two wrongs don't make a right, no matter how much it would throw raw meat to the snarling fan base.

So as this plays out, the Falcons and the NFL are going to have to get rope-a-doped for a while - the same way baseball is getting its just desserts for looking the other way on steroids, the same way the NBA is paying a heavy price for all its legal woes and for the Auburn Hills brawl. For the sins that preceded them, the team and the league have to take their medicine.

Just save the biggest spoonful for Vick.

Yesterday's developments

After consulting with the Atlanta Falcons, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and top league officials agreed to let the legal process determine the facts in the Michael Vick dogfighting case, the Associated Press reported. A source with knowledge of the meeting told the AP that the NFL would stick to that position for the foreseeable future.

The federal court in Richmond, Va., announced that Vick and the three other men who were charged Tuesday are scheduled to appear in court next Thursday, the same day the Falcons are to open training camp. The four will have a bond hearing before a magistrate judge, followed by an arraignment.

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