August 21, 2007
Vick mess overshadows action in the Dome
How do you pay attention to the backup quarterback battle -- that's Jim Sorgi vs. Josh Betts, if you forgot -- when one of the NFL's marquee players is headed to a federal penitentiary?
How do you give a second thought to the Indianapolis Colts' backup running back derby -- Kenton Keith vs. Clifton Dawson vs. DeDe Dorsey -- when a guy who was among the NFL's brightest lights, one of the faces of America's most popular league, has revealed himself to be an uncommon criminal?
What's the big deal about Tony Ugoh's home debut at left offensive tackle or the Colts' continued special-teams follies when Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is joining Mike Tyson as the greatest waste of talent in the recent history of professional sports?
When Colts coach Tony Dungy was asked after Monday's game how he might counsel Vick, he said he doesn't have a full handle on the facts and wouldn't be inclined to offer his thoughts directly to the disgraced quarterback.
He was, however, concerned about the reputation of the NFL.
". . . It's what it says about the league and that's my concern,'' Dungy said after the Colts' 27-24 loss to the Chicago Bears. "We've got a lot of great things going on in our league. We've got guys in our locker room doing tremendous things and I'm sure the Falcons have them, too. I know one of them, Warrick Dunn, is doing some great things, but unfortunately, that part of it won't be heard.
"And that's the thing that all our players have to understand, that anything that takes away from what the group is doing is tough. I don't know all the facts . . . but I know it's overshadowing a lot of the great work that 99 percent of our guys are doing.''
For those who were still awake late in the broadcast, sideline reporter Michele Tafoya asked Peyton Manning about the Vick situation. It was a question she had to ask, a journalistically required question. How does she avoid the gorilla in the room, especially when she's got the league's No. 1 star by her side?
Manning clearly was miffed and gave a short, dismissive answer. That's his prerogative, of course, but don't criticize Tafoya for doing her job.
At this point in the Vick saga, the hard part is finding something smart to say about something so senseless and cruel. And please, let's not play the race card here or make the case that he surrounded himself with bad people. I don't care if he roomed with Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler and Idi Amin in college, the things Vick is acknowledging he did to those dogs speak to a streak of cruelty that cannot be dismissed as a learned trait.
The two big questions now are these:
What will the NFL do to Vick, who already is looking at significant jail time?
Will he play professional football again?
Theoretically, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could make Vick's suspension concurrent with his time in prison. Theoretically, I said. The problem there, though, is he's already set a precedent with Adam "Pacman'' Jones, having sent the Titans cornerback to the bench for a year without him having been convicted of anything. Even if Goodell thinks that Vick's jail time would be appropriate, how does he square that with his previous penalties?
This isn't just about dogfighting, a barbaric enterprise that is more popular in this country than anybody would like to acknowledge. This involves gambling, too. And the NFL is undoubtedly more sensitive about the gambling issue in the wake of the NBA's Tim Donaghy mess.
It's not beyond the realm of possibility that Vick will get one year for dogfighting and another year for gambling on top of the jail sentence.
Which brings us to the second question regarding Vick's football future:
Despite all of this, my belief is Vick will come back. Because in America, great athletes always come back. Tyson came back to the boxing ring, after the rape, after using Evander Holyfield's ear as an hors d'oeuvre, after everything. As judgmental as we can be, that's how forgiving we can be, too, especially when it comes to those graced with surpassing physical ability.
If Vick can still play when his prison and NFL sentences are finished, somebody will bring him to camp.
How about Leonard Little, who in 1998 pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter after he drunkenly drove and killed a young woman named Susan Gutweiler? Six years later, Little, still in the league, was arrested for drunk driving and speeding. He was acquitted of the DWI but convicted of misdemeanor speeding.
Oh, yeah, in 2006, the St. Louis Rams signed him to a three-year extension.
As toxic as Vick is now, if he's properly repentant -- we're talking Humane Society service, charitable giving and lots of Oprah appearances -- in a couple of years, his reputation will be partially restored. Somebody will take a chance on him. Count on it.
The Colts returned home for the first time since the great Super Bowl party on that frosty February evening.
And really, it hardly seemed to matter.
Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star. Call him at (317) 444-6643 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org