Defending Michael Vick (and Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner)

by | August 5, 2010 at 4:30 PM | General, NFL, Philadelphia, Sports

These days, the only thing less popular than defending Michael Vick is defending Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner. The owner and president of the Philadelphia Eagles are perpetually under fire (often from me), but this time it’s specifically for letting Vick “slide” for a shooting at his Virginia Beach birthday party after professing a zero-tolerance policy.

And why not? In this black-and-white, quick-to-judge sports world, the easy angle to take is ripping the Eagles and Michael Vick.

Vick is a dog killer. The Eagles gave him a second chance and he blew it. End of story. Send the felon on his way.

Except, the easy opinion isn’t always the right opinion … and it’s almost never the fair opinion.

But who cares about rightness? Or fairness? Michael Vick is evil. He can’t have a life. He can’t be allowed to redeem himself. He ought to just play football and go home. And perhaps limit his smiling to two or three a day.

What right does he have to throw a birthday party? After what he did? For shame.

It’s all so ridiculously ludicrous. But talk radio pundits and columnists across the country are ready to burn Vick at the stake. Why? Because that’s what they do.

When the Eagles initially signed Vick, I was not a fan of the move. Being a self-admitted Philly fan and a dog lover, I didn’t want to root for him week-to-week. The past year of Vick in midnight green didn’t change that. I’m still not a Vick fan. I don’t get particularly excited when he trots on the field for his five wildcat plays per game and I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing any Vick gear.

It’s not that I don’t think Vick deserves a second chance, it’s more that I’m unhappy it’s my favorite team that gave it to him.

I know it’s contradictory, but the emotional and logical sections of my brain often disconnect. It’s an illness. You see, my brain stem is still functioning. So I’m able to acknowledge that life isn’t laid out neatly in good and evil, right and wrong. The world is nuanced. It’s complicated. And the people living in it deserve more than to have their choices reduced to a 10-second sound bite.

So when a shooting occurred at Michael Vick’s birthday bash in Virginia Beach – a shooting that four independent investigations concluded Vick had absolutely nothing to do with – I was able to discern a difference between Vick shooting someone and someone else who was in the same building as Vick at some point during the night of his party shooting someone.

If I’m going to end the career of an athlete based on a shooting, I’m going to need at least a scintilla of evidence connecting the athlete with the shooting. I’m going to need more than a prosecutor saying he was “involved in shouting, words passing [and] some bumping.”

If anyone in the media thinks there is more to the story, they’re welcome to do their job and actually investigate further. Absent of that, there’s Michael Vick’s story and four corroborating exculpatory reports.

Without more, how can anyone claim Vick blew his second chance. Without more, the Eagles would be dishonest if they counted this “incident” against Vick and sent him packing.

If we’re going to give this guy a second chance, we need to give him a second chance. And we need to stop pretending we’re outraged when the NFL and the Eagles do exactly that.

You may not like what Michael Vick did. Lord knows I don’t. You may not want to root for him every Sunday. Lord knows I don’t. But that doesn’t mean either of us can pin every criminal act of everyone from his hometown on him and make him disappear.

Jeffrey Lurie explained the point eloquently:

 “We’ve got to understand the difference between bringing an ex-offender into an organization and monitoring them and then being so quick to decide, not based on facts, that they don’t deserve that second chance you gave them versus understand where they’re coming from, what they’ve been doing for the past year with your organization and in the league.”

Sure, he then got a little pedantic (and Bill Clinton-ish), playing semantics with the difference between a “lapse in judgment” and “actual wrongdoing,” but that’s how the Eagles are. They’re a thinking-man’s team.

“You have to decide, is that chance based on wrongdoing or a lapse in judgment to attend a party where he had no wrongdoing. That’s, I think for all of us an interesting question. Those that hated that we signed Michael Vick, or were very upset that we signed Michael Vick and believe me, I understand that completely, would probably be quicker to jump and say ‘he showed lapse of judgment. That’s a huge mistake. End of career.’ I don’t feel that way. I feel as human beings, that was a lapse of judgment. Nothing he did was factually creating any wrongdoing. He shouldn’t have been there. But he was trying to appease some people from his old neighborhood and family. So, let’s give support, let’s not jump to judgment and let’s deal with the facts. That’s the best I think a CEO can do, an owner of an organization, or an employer.”

Here’s the thing, Vick haters: I get it. I understand why you can’t forgive him. I have my own dog that is a huge part of my life. But Vick paid for those crimes with real, hard jail time. Was it enough? Too much? We all have our own opinions. But now that he’s out, he’s entitled to the same opportunity to succeed and prosper as the rest of us.

Vick’s teammates universally support him. His coaches praise the work and effort he gives every day. If that’s not good enough for you, fine. But at least recognize that your emotions stem from Vick’s initial crimes and not from the wrongdoing of someone who happened to be at a party Vick threw.

“If you look at my life over the last year, I’ve been trying to do all of the right things, whether it’s in the community or on the field, or with my family,” Vick said on Wednesday at Eagles training camp. “And I think that’s what it’s all about, I’m having fun, I had the most fun in the last year than I’ve had in the last eight years I’ve been playing football. I’m just happy to be in the situation I’m in, I’m blessed, and I just have to keep moving forward.”

I never thought I’d say this a year ago, but maybe we can all learn a lesson from Michael Vick. Maybe it’s time the rest of us move forward too.

 

Email me at russakoffrules@comcast.net; follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/leerussakoff.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.