x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Is it second chance saloon for Vick?

Michael Vick is a tragedy of his own making but after being released from prison after serving 19 months for running an illegal dog fighting ring he has become more. He's become a sympathetic figure.

Michael Vick is a tragedy of his own making but after being released from Federal prison last Wednesday after serving 19 months for running an illegal dog fighting ring he has become more. He's become a sympathetic figure. How long that remains the case will be up to him but for the moment, as cries persist for the NFL to punish him further, the former Atlanta Falcons' quarterback seems to have gone from victimiser to the victim.

Two years ago, Vick was the face of the Falcons and one of the league's brightest stars. He had been on the cover of the Madden EA Sports video game and was brought back to his alma mater, Virginia Tech, after one of the worst shooting sprees in history to help calm the campus. Then his cousin got busted for drugs and a search of Vick's property in Virginia, where the cousin was living, revealed an ugly truth - Michael Vick, role model, was bankrolling a dog fighting ring in which animals were brutalised and in some cases killed. A dog-loving country like America went rabid and Vick soon was being sacked like never before in his life.

His first inclination, not surprisingly, was to try and lie his way out of it. PETA, a powerful animal protection organisation, turned up the heat and eventually Vick ended up in jail. He is now bankrupt, remains under NFL suspension and has not played football in two years. Next week he will begin two months of house arrest, wearing an ankle bracelet and working as a labourer on a construction site for $10 (Dh36) an hour. To some this is not punishment enough.

A debate is raging in America, with one side saying his NFL suspension should continue until he proves his remorse, while others insist he has paid his debt and deserves a second chance. Vick did a terrible thing and he did it repeatedly for six years. He fought dogs, which is a felony in America, illegally gambled on the outcome and slaughtered some of the losers. But America is also a country of laws and under the law he has paid the price. Now some want him punished further for lying about it to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Falcons' owner Arthur Blank?

Bill Clinton lied under oath and kept his job and, frankly, it was a bit more important than playing quarterback in the NFL. Still, Goodell said this week, "Michael is going to have to demonstrate to myself and the public and to a lot of people, did he learn anything from his experience? Does he regret what happened?" How do you prove remorse if no one gives you a second chance? The fact is if Vick goes a third year without playing professional football the likelihood he will ever return to be a productive player is slim. So in many ways a continued suspension is really a death sentence.

Speaking of which, here's another dilemma for Goodell. While Vick sat in jail, a defensive lineman named Leonard Little, who killed Susan Gutweiler in 1998 with his car after driving drunk with so much alcohol in his system he tested over twice the legal limit in Missouri, continued to play. His punishment for killing a woman was 90 days in jail and an eight-game suspension from the NFL. When he got nailed for driving drunk again six years later he was acquitted on a technicality and continued to play for the St. Louis Rams.

If you get eight games for killing a human being what do you get for killing a dog? Isn't 23 months, bankruptcy and the complete loss of the esteem in which you were once held enough? Piling on is a penalty in American football. It should be in the case of Michael Vick, too. rborges@thenational.ae