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July 19, 2007

Time to Bench Vick

Last night, I appeared on CNN's Nancy Grace show with a cavalcade of other guests. The show was one of dozens that have covered the Michael Vick case, which has transfixed and unsettled the country. The ugly details of dogfighting came to light with the filing on Tuesday of a grand jury indictment against the quarterback and three co-defendants in U.S. District Court in Virginia. Public outrage has spread coast to coast.

Brown pit bull dog seized from Michael Vick's property
© The HSUS
A pit bull seized from Vick's property, along with 51 others.

Of the 10 or so people on the show, there was overwhelming sentiment against Michael Vick for his alleged crimes relating to dogfighting (read the transcript). The only voice cutting the other way was Tim Green, the former Atlanta Falcon, author and sports commentator. He said he is a friend of Michael Vick, that Vick has been a hero to many kids, and that he should be presumed innocent until proved guilty.

Well, on one point Americans agree with Green, and I agree. That is, we agree that Vick deserves every opportunity to defend himself in court. And he will, be assured. Green is also correct in observing that Vick is a sports celebrity with a large following among America’s young.

But for that reason—that important reason—I part company with Green and those who say that football should proceed in the fashion of business as usual in the coming season until a verdict is rendered.

No.

Millions of kids look up to athletes like Michael Vick. His jersey is the number two seller for the NFL. That's why companies like Nike hunger for Vick's endorsement and use him to hawk its products. If Vick is allowed to suit up and wow kids with his amazing talents, that will enhance Vick's stature in their minds. And just maybe it will further romanticize dogfighting in their minds.

It shouldn’t be business as usual on the football fields this autumn. Vick should be suspended.

Innocent until guilty is a bedrock value of this country. But we have other important traditions, too. When a shadow as awful as this falls on a public figure like Vick, leaders take action and it's not business as usual. Police officers are routinely relieved of duty when they are accused of wrongdoing. Scooter Libby did not keep his White House job after he was charged with a crime. The fact is that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has put himself on record saying that football players need to answer to high standards on account of their place in the public eye and not disgrace the sport.

It’s time for Goodell to back his words with action.

This morning I perused the news. One after another, thoughtful commentators came to the same conclusion:

“If ever there was a time when this new get-tough conduct policy should be put in play for the good of the league, this would appear to be it,” wrote Peter Schmuck in the Baltimore Sun.

“I know, just an accusation. But commissioner Roger Goodell has a league image to consider. And Goodell has been championed as the guy trying to clean that image up,” said Greg Couch of the Chicago Sun Times.

“This is the litmus test for how badly Goodell wants to improve the NFL’s image,” wrote Jean-Jaques Taylor in The Dallas Morning News.

Many dogs suffered horribly on property owned by Vick. Read the indictment. It will turn your stomach. We cannot ignore their bloody despair, or the many dogs killed in the most frightful of ways, or the misery of those survivors now penned up in cages as “evidence.”  No, we cannot ignore these creatures and let the games go on as if nothing happened.

We can’t let our young people hang on to a sports hero like this when there is so much carnage to answer for. Write Roger Goodell. Tell him not to allow Vick to suit up. If you want, tell him its for the good of football. Or, tell him he must act for the sake of our young people and what we should teach them about their power over animals.

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