A DOG WHO SHOULD NOT BE BARKING—SIGNALS
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 21 August 2009
Well, the National Football League has gone to the dogs—literally. With all the talent in our country clamoring for a chance to play at the professional level, it is puzzling why the NFL does not take a “zero tolerance” position against criminals playing in the league. The “it’s all about the money” argument is shallow. See my earlier comment about talent in the country. And, add character to the mix.
The Philadelphia Eagles recently signed Michael Vick—the dogfighting entrepreneur who decided he needed something to fill his off-field time, broaden his cultural awareness and entertainment options, and supplement his meager salary all while satisfying some sick psychological need. The Eagles signing Vick not only stains the Philly franchise it tarnishes an entire league of “professionals” whose image continues on the downhill slide.
Had Vick earned his living competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship—a blood sport the human version of dogfighting (to include peculiar deaths—outside the cage—of some of the fighters)—his affinity for the brutal and gruesome “sport” of fighting canines would make more sense; but not be any less disgusting.
Vick, once the $130 million dollar quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, recently completed a nearly two year prison sentence. A small price to pay for his role as a central figure in a dogfighting operation he started during 2001—his rookie season. Vick was indicted during the summer of 2007. Do the math, that’s just a few years of consciously running an illegal and horrible enterprise.
And Vick was not part of some slip-shod street network engaging in impromptu back-alley dog fights. Nor was he merely a committed hobbyist. No, Vick’s participation went much further—he was a professional. A registered breeder, he trained dogs, hosted fights on his rural Virginia property, conducted business across state lines, betted—heavily and, most disturbing of all, was personally involved executing dogs that did not perform well in battle. And the executions were heinous—hanging, drowning, electrocuting, and body-slamming—not euthanasia techniques endorsed by the ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) or by anyone with any sense of decency.
Furthermore, it is not unusual for dogfighting to involve other criminal activity e.g. illegal drugs, weapons violations, corruption of minors, and money laundering to cite only a few. Is it reasonable to believe Vick may have had his hand—to any degree—in more than just dogfighting? Certainly.
Michael Vick—a real prince of a guy—just what every NFL team needs as a leader—a field general—and to serve as a role model (a default responsibility—like it or not) for aspiring athletes—youth or otherwise. Though Commissioner Roger Goodell welcomed Vick back to the league, a good number of teams said, “No thanks.” Good for them. It’s always refreshing when reminded there are still some principled folks around. What were the Eagles thinking? Surely nothing about character only money—a bargain basement deal for a gold arm. After all, whatever it takes to help chalk up a “W.”
No matter how you slice and dice it, Vick is a felon—an ex-con. Those defending him say he’s served his time and moreover lost a fortune—an even bigger price he paid. They say he’s genuinely remorseful and apologized for his “mistake” and deserves another chance. Really? Why? And who wouldn’t be remorseful and apologetic—after—getting caught and losing everything?
A “mistake” is innocently putting only 40 cents worth of postage on an envelope for first class mail and dropping it in a mail box. A “mistake” is preparing the coffee pot and forgetting to fill the reservoir with water before hitting the perk button. A “mistake” is setting your electric alarm clock for 5:00 a.m. and not checking to ensure the volume is set loud enough to awaken from sleep. A “mistake” is resting your gas cap on top of the pump and forgetting to replace it before driving away after refueling. Running a ruthless dogfighting operation—for years—a “mistake?” Not hardly, it reflects a serious character disorder—a sickness. By no means can such vile behavior be categorized as a mere “mistake.” For anyone to proffer such is insulting. To believe such nonsense is pure idiocy.
Despite his talent, playing in the NFL is a privilege—it is not a right. And why that privilege was again extended to Vick is a mystery. Once the highest paid player in the NFL, he is currently being paid less than 1% ($1.6M) of his astronomical salary with the Falcons. But it shouldn’t matter. Even if he was playing for free—he should not be playing.
It’s been a long, long time (decades) since I gave a damn about professional football—for any professional sport for that matter. And it’s because of miscreants like Vick who do not deserve the privilege of playing at that level. For me, complete indifference is driven by the handful of criminals who taint the “professionalism” of the sports. And though the vast majority of professional athletes are decent, respectable folks it only takes one or two bad actors to damage the reputation of all. Especially in something as visible as professional sports in America. It may not be fair but that’s reality.
Michael Vick had his big chance. After one year of “college,” a chance at riches—that was in his hands—the vast majority of people cannot begin to fully comprehend. For whatever reason(s), he made some very bad choices and as a result threw his chance away. Sure, he deserves a second chance—at life. Not in the NFL. In a sane world, his days of barking signals on the gridiron would be over.
Recent polling data by Harris Interactive reveals that the most respected and prestigious occupations in the United States—as viewed by the general public—in order are: Firefighters, Scientists, Doctors, Nurses, Teachers, and Military Officers.
You have to go nine more positions down the list to find “Athlete”—three positions lower than “Member of Congress.” Can you believe that? There was a day when professional athletes were king. Considering the turbulent times in our country, that “Athlete” does not rank above a politician roars volumes. One would think that during tough times athletes would enjoy a far more favorable opinion in the public eye. As historically many a distraught citizen has found solace in a “hero” who excelled at passing a football, swinging a bat, or dunking a basketball. Not so these days—athletes rank just above the least respected professionals of Real Estate Agents/Brokers, Accountants, Stock Brokers, and Actors.
In America, where life moves at the speed of fast-forward, image is everything. The NFL, despite all the community good it does, needs to clean up its act—as to whom it wants as ambassadors. One question comes to mind, what would Coach Vince Lombardi (1913-1970) think—would he have tolerated such a character flaw—a poison amongst his team—in one of his players? From my memories of Lombardi, the answer is a gritty, fist-pounding, and emphatic, “Hell no.”
The league and the Eagles (and every other team) had a chance to make a statement and send a clear message with Michael Vick—an example of what the NFL is not. They blew it. Chalk up an “L.”
Champions--built from sound character, dedication to achieving excellence through total commitment, hard work, practice, and teamwork--detest anything other than a "W." That was the old-fashioned and trial-tested philosophy of Lombardi, the demanding iconic leader of the Green Bay Packers, whose death caused hardened football players to weep. Those were the days—days needed today. Time to revisit the Lombardi way.