Phil Sheridan | Vick's plea a help to Goodell

Posted: August 21, 2007

So now Michael Vick admits to the heinous charges against him. Now, after weeks of playing on the emotions of fans who desperately wanted to believe in him, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback accepts "full responsibility" for the brutal, unconscionable dogfighting business he ran out of a property he owned in Virginia.

That's some conversion. Is it too cynical to suggest it should be translated like this: Michael Vick was so busted, his choices were to sign on the dotted line or spend millions of money on attorneys only to lose anyway.

Is it possible, in this summer of shame, to be too cynical?

A few weeks ago, Vick's attorney was standing in front of the cameras practically sneering at those who would rush to judgment after reading of the sick crimes alleged in the indictment. Yesterday, that same attorney, Billy Martin, told us Vick was guilty and sorry. Martin did not, however, apologize for his own misleading bluster, which contributed to the divisive public debate about Vick.

All those people who exposed themselves to criticism for defending Vick - on innocent-until-proven-guilty grounds, on racial grounds - were betrayed by Martin yesterday. He didn't seem too concerned about that. He's getting paid.

Somewhere down the line, an innocent athlete will pay dearly for these betrayals. The public and the powers that be have become so numb to the wounded expressions and mock outrage of the guilty that a truly wounded, truly wronged party won't stand a chance.

Until now, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's iron-fisted handling of player misconduct has been more than a bit troubling. Yes, there is some satisfaction in seeing spoiled, misbehaving millionaires get their comeuppance, and it is hard to find anything positive to say about "Pacman" Jones or "Tank" Johnson, two of the players Goodell has slammed with long suspensions.

But Jones, who has had his Miranda rights read to him more than once, has not been convicted of a crime. Goodell set the tone by suspending Johnson for half of a season on weapons charges; the player was later released by the Chicago Bears after being arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.

This is dangerous ground. Goodell is asking us - the fans, the media, the players, the teams - to trust him never to abuse this power. What happens if he does? What happens if he simply makes a mistake? Will he also have the power to give a player a year of his career back?

By drawing this very visible line before the Vick case broke, though, Goodell may actually have sped up the process here. Think about it from Vick's point of view. If he was inclined to go to trial and take his chances with a jury, he had to know it would cost him millions in legal fees. He would have weighed that risk against the millions he is still owed on the contract he signed with the Falcons in 2004.

But when you introduce the Goodell factor, the equation changes. If the commissioner can and will suspend Vick for a season or two - regardless of the outcome of the criminal trial - Vick can't count on getting those millions of dollars. Suddenly, the smart play is to plead guilty, cut his financial losses, and shorten the legal process. The year or so it would take for a trial can be spent serving his sentence. The younger he is when he's finished with the legal system, the better his chances of playing football again.

Meanwhile, Goodell is more likely to give Vick that chance - after a severe suspension, no doubt - if the quarterback pays his debt to society and works hard to rehabilitate his image.

It was telling that the NFL's prepared statement yesterday stressed that the guilty plea was not consistent with what Vick had told Goodell and the Falcons. While it is clearly wrong to kill innocent dogs and cross state lines for the purposes of illegal gambling, Vick really crossed the line when he lied to the NFL.

Goodell's next move - an indefinite suspension of Michael Vick - will be possible because of his previous actions. The suspension won't technically begin until Vick is out of prison, so even a two-year suspension would eat up a chunk of Vick's playing career. By then, Goodell can choose to ban or reinstate Vick based on the player's actions, attitude and behavior.

Really, Goodell got off easy here. Eventually, a superstar was going to test his willingness to be as harsh as he has been with lesser lights. By pleading guilty to such horrific acts, Michael Vick brought the hammer down on himself.


Phil Sheridan |

Michael Vick pleads guilty in dogfighting case. He faces prison time. A1.
Post a comment or question for columnist Phil Sheridan at http://forums.philly.com/phil_sheridan. Or by e-mail: psheridan@phillynews.com.

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