Questions about Vick case still linger for me

Best Seat in the House by Chris Graham
sportsdom@ntelos.net

7b1c981285ed4b0b9bac325eb8411821.jpgTwo questions have my attention right now regarding Michael Vick.
One, was 23 months enough for leading a dogfighting ring and personally participating in the executions of several dogs that had been deemed not up to standards to complete in the bloodsport?
Two, is 23 months going to prove to be too much for a player who could be 30 or even 31 years old by the time he hits an NFL field again to be able to make an impact – if indeed he ever gets to play professional football again at all?
“I do think it’s a pretty good sentence,” said John Goodwin, the manager of animal-fighting issues on the Animal Cruelty and Animal Fighting Campaign of the Humane Society of the United States, helping us answer the first question.
Goodwin was in Richmond on Monday and in the federal courtroom when Vick was handed down the sentence that could have him in prison until the summer of 2009 or longer.

Vick could end up serving 18 months of the sentence if he earns time for good behavior.

He had faced up to five years in prison on his felony conviction.

“This is a case where someone threw away a multimillion-dollar career – by doing something as sadistic as setting these dogs against each other in these fights. And that’s really tragic – you know, it’s a mistake that he made. And I think the two years on top of that, it clearly sends a very strong message – that dogfighting is a career-killer. This is throwing your life away when you get involved in activities like this,” Goodwin said in an interview for this week’s “SportsDominion Show.”

Yahoo! Sports columnist Jason Cole isn’t so sure that Vick has thrown his life away, though – as he aids us in answering question number two.

“I think that he’s going to get another chance to play,” said Cole, who has talked with NFL personnel people about Vick’s future, and has heard from enough that Vick would almost certainly have him back on a field whenever he is given the green light to pursue his football career.

“I think that he’s a good enough athlete. I don’t know that he comes back as a quarterback or not. But I think somebody will give him a chance – especially, say, if he’s able to get out in June or July of 2009, rather than later on in the year, where it might be more problematic,” Cole told “The SportsDominion Show.”

There is still the strong possibility that Vick will face something in the way of a suspension from the NFL after his prison term is up. That could push Vick’s return to the NFL back to 2010 – and mean that he will have missed three full seasons before getting back into the pro-football fold.

As to that, Cole said “a lot is going to depend on how he behaves himself while he’s in prison.”

“I think that the NFL is just going to sit back and wait and say, OK, how do you conduct yourself? Do you give some kind of mea culpa where you confess your sins, tell the world how wrong dogfighting is, become a model citizen and a model prisoner and all of those kinds of things? Or do you continue to be in some trouble, or never tell your story, sort of never repent? Basically, how do you handle this?” Cole said.

NFL teams will also have to do some soul-searching.

“You know, there’s always going to be detractors who say, Oh, never take a chance on this guy, you don’t want to do business with him, why would you ever want somebody this violent, evil, on your team. You’re going to have to deal with some of that – and some teams will never want to deal with it, and some teams may look at him and say, OK, I’ll take my chance, I’ll take a shot with this kid,” Cole said.

“Some teams, like Houston, where Bob McNair is very PR-conscious, I would say that Houston would probably have a problem taking him. Whereas a team like Oakland, with Al Davis, they’ve never blinked when taking problem guys,” Cole said.

As far as the potential public-relations nightmares that await Vick and his NFL suitors down the road, Goodwin can himself see a scenario where Vick can earn his way back into the public trust that could allow him to pursue his football career again.

“I do believe in redemption, but redemption has to be sincere. Over the next two years, Michael Vick can tell a powerful story – and he could help deter other kids who might want to follow in those footsteps and make those same mistakes. And I hope he does that. I hope that this remorse is sincere. That would be one of the better things that could come from what was otherwise a very bleak situation,” Goodwin said.

And then to get back to finishing our answer to our first question, Goodwin thinks the 23-month sentence given Vick has added to the public awareness of the world of dogfighting – and that our increased awareness of the sport will help with efforts to stamp it out.

“That is the silver lining on what is otherwise a dark, dark cloud,” Goodwin said. “There is a much greater of awareness about this crime now – and we’re seeing more and more citizens who are now recognizing the signs of dogfighting, they’re calling into police. Arrests of dogfighters have tripled – and in 2008, we expect at least 25 state legislatures to have bills to set stronger penalties for animal fighting and for attending animal fights. So we really want to capture this momentum and move it forward to put all dogfighters out of business.

“That’s the thing that we’ve got to remember. This does not begin or end with Michael Vick. It’s still there, and it still needs to be dealt with,” Goodwin said. “There’s 40,000 people involved in the organized world of dogfighting, and maybe 100,000 more that are kind of like these amateurish street fighters that get pit bulls from random sources and kind of fight them in the neighborhood and then dump them to fend for themselves. These people consume up to a quarter-million dogs each year in tnis industry – if you want to call it an industry. And this is an industry that is wounded, this is an industry that has taken some blows – but it’s still an industry that’s still there, and we want to put them out of business.”

  

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.

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