Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Indictment of Michael Vick

Michael Vick has been indicted by a federal grand jury on multiple felony charges related to a dogfighting operation that he allegedly ran at a property that he purchased in Surry County, Virginia.'s Lester Munson explains exactly how much trouble Vick is in--the bottom line is that if this case goes to trial then the proceedings will be held at the so-called "rocket docket," the federal courthouse in Richmond, Virginia that is notorious for how quickly it handles cases, and if Vick is convicted he faces the very real possibility of serving time in jail, perhaps as much as six years.

New NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has initiated a strong player conduct policy that has already led to the suspensions of Adam "Pacman" Jones, Chris Henry and Terry "Tank" Johnson, none of whom are under federal indictment as Vick is. It appears that the indictment alone will not lead to Vick being suspended by the NFL because Vick is not considered a "repeat offender" in the eyes of the league, whereas Jones, Henry and Johnson all had multiple, shall we say, "interactions" with police/legal authorities. Frankly, that is a thin reed for Goodell to stand on and it may fall apart beneath his feet. What if a player's first offense is to be indicted for murder? Would that player not be suspended because he is not a "repeat offender"? The issue is not just how many incidents a player has but the nature and seriousness of those incidents--and multiple federal felony charges constitute a pretty serious "first offense."

If Goodell suspends Vick now then he will be accused of violating Vick's right to due process but that is not really true. Vick is entitled to a fair trial in which he mounts a legal defense to these charges but he has no "right" to play in the NFL; that is a privilege and if the league feels that he has brought shame on its operation then the NFL certainly has the right to punish him for that transgression. People are suspended and fired every day for much less than being indicted on felony charges. Is there any job in this country other than professional athlete in which a person can be indicted by a federal grand jury without it having some ramification regarding his employment?

Goodell and his NFL legal advisers need to handle the Vick situation like every other employer in this country would handle a similar matter; they need to determine if, in their estimation, Vick has truly committed some wrongdoing or not. While the NFL cannot decide if Vick has broken the law the league can certainly ascertain if his actions are appropriate for one of their employees. If it is clear that Vick has acted in a manner that is inappropriate or unbecoming of an NFL employee, then he should be punished just like Jones, Henry and Johnson were; after all, the legal system had not run its course in every situation involving those players prior to Goodell taking action. If the NFL has good reason to believe that Vick is completely innocent, then it should help him mount a legal defense. The NFL cannot go halfway toward addressing player conduct issues and then stop in the middle of the road because Vick is a more prominent player than Jones, Henry and Johnson. Frankly, even if Vick knew nothing about what was going on at the Surry County property he should still be punished in some fashion by the NFL because he certainly should have known what was happening.

The Vick matter is much bigger and more serious than the celebrated cases in Eagle, Colorado involving Kobe Bryant and in Durham, North Carolina with members of the Duke lacrosse team; the latter two situations involved overzealous local police/prosecutors, a rush to judgment despite flimsy or no evidence and the eventual exoneration of Bryant and the Duke lacrosse players. Vick has been the subject of an extensive, methodical federal investigation, it is not disputed that he owns the property in question and there appears to be significant physical evidence that illegal activities transpired there. ESPN's Tom Jackson says that Goodell may have to suspend 20 players over a period of time before the message sinks in that he is serious about changing the conduct of the league's employees (owners and executives are also subject to disciplinary action). Unless Goodell wants to stake his reputation, the NFL's reputation and the fate of his personal conduct policy on the belief that Vick is innocent, he should at the very least fine Vick for conduct detrimental to the league--and then donate the money to an animal shelter. What Vick and his associates are accused of being involved with is deplorable and the NFL should want to strongly condemn this conduct and disassociate itself from it as quickly as possible.

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