Elmer Smith: Credit the Eagles for trying

Posted: August 17, 2009

MICHAEL VICK does not deserve a second chance.

No one does.

That's what makes second chances so special. They are an extension of grace that says more about the people who give them than the ones who receive them.

What Vick deserved was that 19 months in the slammer that his reprehensible act earned him. He was not some hapless innocent who fell into bad company.

He was the center of his social circle. If there was a leader in that ragtag bunch, he was it.

He did not merely "bankroll" a dog-fight. He was the ringmaster of an enterprise that routinely and remorselessly destroyed innocent animals for sport.

And, please, don't give me that "different culture" business. When you sign up to make millions for throwing a ball you are already in a different culture and you should be expected to abide by its customs.

So, I didn't have a problem with his arrest, conviction or imprisonment.

But I rejoiced when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated him. I love the message that it sent to a society that seems content to dispose of flawed people.

Even more, I love what it says about the Eagles. I am not naive enough to believe that this is an act of pure altruism. The Eagles may end up with a blue-chip player for the price of a blue-plate special.

In that sense, he is no more of a gamble than the one the Phillies took with Pedro Martinez.

But the Eagles made a decision that could tarnish its corporate logo for years, one that seems to contradict all the team's edicts about character and team chemistry.

If Vick so much as fails to tip his waiter, it will reflect badly on the Eagles. If he proves to be a disruption in the locker room or a liability on the field, the Eagles will never hear the end of it.

So I applaud the team for a gutsy move. The smart move would have been to leave him alone.

"It's a hard decision," Tony Dungy told me Friday. "It had to be an organizational decision. It's not human nature to forgive, that's why I applaud the Eagles.

"But there has to be some remorse. A prerequisite is that he has to want to go in a different direction.

"Michael and I have talked a lot over the last two and a half months about his lifestyle, his decision-making.

"I think it became clear to him when he was working at the Hanson Boys and Girls Club that he had hurt a lot of young people. There were kids there who told him, 'You used to be my favorite player.'

"He had to explain it to his children. His youngest daughter was just one month old when he went away."

"He led me to believe he is going in a different direction. He doesn't want to lead them the wrong way."

Dungy's faith, as much as any other factor, led the Eagles to roll the dice. Eagles President Joe Banner cited it repeatedly in our conversation Thursday night.

But this was an organizational decision. If Andy Reid had not seen his own sons in trouble, he might not have been on board. If Donovan McNabb was as insecure as people claim he is, they wouldn't have done this deal.

It says something about all of them that they were willing to take this chance. Michael Vick may or may not justify their faith.

But he will never have to earn it. That's what makes second chances so special.

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns:

http://go.philly.com/smith

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