You'd expect the job of the NFL commissioner to be mostly about business and bargaining, a high stress, high-wire act of managing a multibillion dollar sports empire. Roger Goodell, in three years on the job, has not only proven those abilities, but also an unexpected skill set.
Goodell has earned the nickname "The Hammer" for vowing to restore order to the NFL, which has been overwhelmed by a series of misbehaving players. While he hasn't hesitated to drop down lengthy suspensions, he's also demonstrated a forceful but fair sensibility.
In announcing new Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick(notes) would be forced to sit just two more games, rather than a previously expected four or five, for his role in a dogfighting ring, he's proven again to be of proper mind.
"At the end of the day, it was a gut check," Goodell said.
Anything more would have been piling on. Vick had already spent nearly two years in federal custody, lost a bulk of his $130 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons and all his endorsements. He'd already ruined his name and lost his job as a starting quarterback (at least thus far).
He deserved something, mostly because of issues related to his operating and funding the Bad Newz Kennels dogfighting ring out of rural Virginia. He lied to Goodell when he initially denied his role in the operation. He also failed a federally-administered drug test while awaiting trial on the case.
For that he deserved the two games. For the dogfighting, he'd paid his debt to society, even if emotions and anger from some will certainly continue to run against him.
By Week 3, a home game against Kansas City, he can suit up for the Eagles and play at coach Andy Reid's pleasure. Maybe that's at wide out. Maybe that's lining up at quarterback from the shotgun. Maybe that's assuming a traditional QB's role again, if, who knows, Donovan McNabb(notes) struggles.
The Eagles gambled on Vick and thus far have been rewarded. He looks pretty good on the field, considering the prison rust. Protests at preseason games have been minimal. And now, he's eligible to play sooner than initially projected.
The only risk at this point is whether there is any real conflict (present or future) between Vick and McNabb. Time will tell.
When it comes to the punishment, Goodell showed again that he has a good feel for these situations. He was correct to sit Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte' Stallworth(notes) for at least a season after he pled guilty to DUI manslaughter. It righted a ridiculous criminal justice sentence that saw him serve a meager 24 days behind bars.
Conversely, Vick served a 23-month sentence, which was the near maximum time according to federal guidelines for his role in the dogfighting ring. He had played his legal cards all wrong, being last among five defendants to strike a plea with federal prosecutors and then outraging the judge by failing a drug test.
Sitting him two or three more games wouldn't have meant much at this point.
The likelihood he commits the same crime is remote – he's even pledged to work with animal rights groups. Goodell said he'd remain on NFL probation, which means Vick will walk a thin line.
Besides, the contrition that Vick often lacked before his time in Leavenworth (Kan.) appears more genuine now. It may not be for everyone, but for enough people. This isn't the same guy who, at times, looked oblivious to the severity of the charges during his Richmond court dates.
"I think he's making real progress," Goodell said. "I think he has a better feel for the challenges ahead of him."
In a 45-minute meeting Thursday, Goodell said Vick reiterated that, "I have demonstrated to you and others that I have to make better judgments."
So Goodell made a good judgment himself. Punishing him for longer wouldn't have proven anything, deterred anyone or meant anything more than over-the-top vengeance.
It's time for Vick to make the most of his second chance. And it was time Roger Goodell gave it to him.
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- Roger Goodell