The first reaction, at least judging from the comments on the radio and in the blogosphere, was total shock. I mean, the guy's orange suits still haven't been sent to the dry-cleaners. He was just released from federal custody on July 20, after having spent 19 months at Leavenworth and a few more at a halfway house.
I know there was plenty of talk about his return to the NFL, but this was a sucker punch that no serious Philadelphia fan was expecting. I mean, we're still dealing with the loss of B. Dawk, a universally beloved gentleman (if not gentle man on the gridiron), and the memories of T.O. aren't completely covered in cobwebs. So now we have to deal with another bad boy, this time a real felon instead of a pretentious, fashion-forward prima donna?
Much but not all of the criticism comes from the animal-rights community. That's to be expected. If O.J. Simpson were still playing and the Bills took him back, you'd expect NOW and Women Against Abuse to be out there with bullhorns and fury. People whose cause is protecting animals are justifiably outraged at the thought of a Vick comeback, as if his federal sentence were just a regrettable hiatus in an otherwise stellar career.
IT'S IMPORTANT to remember the extent of his crime. Vick allowed, and abetted, unbelievable cruelties. Dogs were strangled, drowned and electrocuted on his watch.
And his response during a "60 Minutes" interview aired last night?
"It's wrong, man."
It's wrong, man. Consider that for a moment. "Wrong." You wanted to scream back at the TV and say things I can't put in print. To let him know that even a stay at Leavenworth isn't enough to cancel out his debt if he can turn around and use the totally inadequate "wrong" to describe pure sadism.
OK, maybe he really is sorry. Maybe he even caught that prison religion that turns so many guys into a saint just in time for the next parole hearing.
And you have to admit that an awful lot of people have vouched for him, including a man with such integrity and character that you are inclined to believe that, just perhaps, Vick has learned his lesson. Tony Dungy has taken the disgraced but still brilliant QB under his wing and guided him through this difficult time, trying to give him some direction.
And Eagles coach Andy Reid has also talked about redemption, making pointed references to his own sad experiences with drug-addicted sons. You get the idea that the Colts and Eagles coaches are channeling their own experiences (Dungy's son committed suicide) in trying to redeem a young man who, by all accounts, may be fundamentally decent if overwhelmingly flawed.
That's fine, as far as it goes. Redemption is a good thing, as my years in Catholic boot camp taught me to believe. But redemption carries with it an obligation of sacrifice.
And if you think that the year and a half Vick spent cooling his heels in the criminal-justice system plus some fines is sufficient sacrifice when balanced against his crimes, think again.
The $1.6 million that Vick will earn this year alone could alleviate the suffering of thousands of animals. Instead of playing second string to Donovan McNabb and soaring back up the ladder of material success, wouldn't it be better for the Eagles to just donate the money to an abuse shelter (one at which Vick would have a full-time job cleaning the litter boxes)?
I know, that's preposterous. The Eagles aren't really in the business of redemption, despite what Reid and team president Joe Banner say. They want to win. The state of Vick's soul is irrelevant. So maybe they should just change the team's famous fight song:
Fly Eagles Fly, on the road to Vick-tory
Fly Eagles Fly, winning games does not come free
Feeling sick? Close your eyes
At all cost we'll win that prize,
Fly Eagles Fly, on the road to Vick-tory.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. Her column usually appears on Friday. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.