I've been wanting to write about the Michael Vick indictment for a few days, but I wanted to let it sink in a little longer and see what the NFL and the Atlanta Falcons would do regarding the start of training camp. By now you've heard that the Falcons' starting quarterback and former Madden coverboy, Michael Vick, has been arraigned in a Federal Court for a host of crimes involving dog fighting. We've known for months that property Vick owned in Virginia was being used for breeding pit bulls for dog fighting and that numerous dogs were found dead on the property. Vick originally plead ignorance and blamed it on the tenants, saying he had no idea what was going on at this house, which we were led to believe was an investment property.
And the uproar began to fade, albeit to a loud murmur. Then the bombshell was dropped -- the Feds were indicting Vick and several other men for conducting illegal activities across state lines, and for dog fighting, gambling, and animal cruelty. The details of the report are quite horrific, and you can read about them in the official document here.
When the news broke I did what I imagine the 2.5 million other NFL season ticket holders did and that was run to my refrigerator to check the upcoming schedule to see if Atlanta was coming to town. They're not; the Seahawks visit the ATL in December to close out the regular season. I was relieved by this. I didn't want the media circus coming to town and casting its lengthy shadow across Qwest Field. I love my Seahawk Sundays and just as I was glad two seasons ago to not have a home game against the T.O-less Eagles, I'm glad we're not hosting the Falcons in 2007.
I was also relieved to hear that NFL Commission Roger Goodell took the proactive and level-headed step to ban Vick from Falcons training camp for 4 weeks, with pay. He also temporarily prohibited further punishment by the Falcons. There's a rush to non-judgment right now in the media, given the ill-fated knee-jerk reaction everyone had to the Duke Lacrosse situation. It's definitely within the realm of possibility that Vick escapes conviction in this, but the Feds have a conviction rate >90%. This isn't some podunk attorney general looking to bolster his campaign, as was the case with the Duke scandal. This is the FBI. These are the guys who bring down mob bosses and lifetime criminals. Vick and his lawyers will be agile, but the Feds only bring the blitz if they know they're getting the sack. And if you factor in what is sure to be a number of plea-bargains made by other guys lining up to testify against Vick (and possibly other athletes or celebs) for a reduced sentence, I see no way he gets out of this.
But what happens in 4 weeks when Vick's temporary ban is up? Goodell hired an investigator to look into the indictment more closely and I imagine -- and hope -- that he determines that Vick must be prohibited from being anywhere near the Falcons or any other NFL team until the case is tried and a verdict is in. And I say this not because I'm 100% sure Vick is guilty, but rather because I love football. I don't know if Vick is guilty or not. None of us do. But, the acts that he and the others are accused of -- electrocution, drowning, and repeatedly slamming a dog to the ground until it died -- are so entirely heinous that there is no way it cannot be the lead story week in and week out all season long. And as a football fan and as a dog lover, I cannot accept that. It doesn't matter to me whether he did it or not, the fact that he is linked to this -- and awaiting trial -- is enough for Goodell to ban Vick under a good of the game policy. We're going to hear enough about this over the next 12 to 18 months as it is, we don't need to see the case tried in public every Sunday as Vick and the Falcons go on a 10-city tour.
One of the reporters on ESPN last week commented that we, the public, would probably be less upset if it turned out Vick beat a stripper to death, instead of a dog. That may be so. But, I'd like to think that the outrcy and protests (for once I'm siding with the PETA people) would be appropriate if it was a person, a dog, a cat, or any other living creature. No body or thing deserves to die like this. What these guys did was torture. To the death. I don't care what species it was or what breed of dog, there is no place on Earth for a person who would pick up another living creature -- especially one reliant on its owner for care -- and repeatedly slam it to the ground until it stopped breathing. Dog fighting alone is bad enough, but the savage murder of these animals for underperforming is insanity. The words cruel and unusual have seldom been more appropriate.
Commissioner Goodell has really proven himself in his short tenure to be a no-nonsense guy who cares deeply about the integrity of the game and protecting its image. It's unfortunate that of the dozens of men involved in this that Vick and the NFL are the only ones being put on public trial, but that's the way it is. Vick wouldn't be a millionaire without the NFL so therefor it's up to Goodell to step in and do what's right for the league and force Vick to take a leave of absence until the trial is over. It might not be good for Vick or for the Falcons, but it will be best for the league and its fans.