Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bad Choice

“You were instrumental in facilitating, putting together, organizing and funding this cruel and inhumane sporting activity,” Hudson told Vick in a courtroom packed with animal-rights activists and Vick’s family and fans. “While you have acknowledged guilt and apologized, I’m convinced it was not a momentary lapse of judgment on your part. You were a full partner.”

Vick, 27, pleaded guilty in August to bankrolling a dogfighting operation, Bad Newz Kennels, and to helping kill six to eight dogs. He voluntarily entered prison three weeks ago, in Warsaw, Va...

Vick denied a direct role in killing the dogs that did not perform to expectations, but his co-defendants — Quanis Phillips and Purnell Peace — said Vick played a major role in some of those killings, which included drownings and hangings.

And so Michael Vick, once a starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, was sentenced on December 10, 2007 to 23 months in prison by Judge Henry E. Hudson in United States District Court.

This past September, Vick would be reinstated to the National Football League by Commissioner Roger Goodell, soon after being signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, for whom he is a backup quarterback.

But if Vick's performance on the field has been unremarkable, his impact on his teammates has been somewhat surprising. They have unanimously voted him the team's recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, which, ESPN explains, "honors players who exemplify commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. Each of the 32 NFL teams selects a recipient."

There are at at least two ways of viewing this selection: appalling and obscene. Mr. Vick, however, does not see it that way, remarking

I've had to overcome a lot, more than probably one single individual can bear. Take a look at what I've been through. You ask certain people to walk in my shoes, they probably couldn't do it. Probably 95 percent of the people in this world - because nobody had to endure what I've been through, situations I've been put in, situations I've placed myself in, decisions that I've made - whether they were good or bad.

Credit Michael Vick with avoiding false humility. Credit him also with crass insensitivity to the millions of Americans who have served more than 18 months in prison for less heinous crimes- or for committing offenses while being consumed by a drug habit or alcoholism or a severe emotional problem. Many of these have been justly sentenced, but few had the advantage of a multi-million dollar professional football contract and all the trappings that go with it. Or, as Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Phil Sheridan put it

And, hey, Vick has been through a lot. He was identified early as a remarkably gifted athlete and treated special throughout his high school years. He was handed a full scholarship to Virginia Tech. After playing just two years there, he was taken with the very first pick in the 2000 NFL draft.

The Atlanta Falcons gave him a six-year, $62 million contract before he ever played a down for them. They tore that up four years later and gave him what was the biggest deal in NFL history at the time: $130 million, including $37 million in bonuses, over 10 years.

Vick overcame all of this privilege and good fortune, winding up bankrupt and incarcerated in federal prison after running an ongoing illegal dogfighting operation. He has since demonstrated the courage to accept a million dollars from the Eagles in an effort to rehab his image and resurrect his very lucrative career.

Ultimately, the award says little about Michael Vick. But it does say a lot about the judgment, and perhaps the integrity, of the players who would enthusiastically honor such an individual.

--------------------------------MERRY CHRISTMAS---------------------------

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