Vick deserves reinstatement and missed games

For a man who was lied to repeatedly and saw the league he runs embarrassed for months, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came up with a pretty even-handed solution for Michael Vick(notes).

Goodell granted Vick “conditional” reinstatement to the NFL on Monday, including the chance for Vick to return to the field by the sixth week of the upcoming season. While some people, such as Terrell Owens(notes) and Tony Dungy, may argue that Vick has suffered enough after nearly two years in federal custody, that point of view misses an obvious point.

Photo Blank’s trust in Vick was betrayed two years ago.
(Christopher Gooley/Getty)

In short, how many people could commit a crime punishable by prison or jail time, lie to their boss and the owner of the business repeatedly, continue to embarrass the employer and somehow think they could return to their job as soon as the sentence ends?

Realistically speaking, that’s a very unrealistic notion.

To be clear, this is not an argument that Vick, who repeatedly lied to Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Goodell two years ago, shouldn’t play football again. On the contrary, Vick deserves another chance.

Just not right away.

What Goodell did Monday in allowing Vick to join a team, go to training camp, participate in the final two exhibition games and then return later in the season is a just compromise. Those who say Vick doesn’t deserve additional missed games demean the privilege of playing in the NFL.

Likewise, the latest contention by PETA representative Nicole Matthews that Vick needs psychological testing falls somewhere between silly and absurd. But the message from the stipulations Goodell put on Vick to remain in the NFL make it clear that the privilege of playing in the NFL is something to be handled carefully.

That’s right, privilege. Playing in the NFL is not some inalienable right (which Vick acknowledged on Monday). It’s not, “life, liberty and avoiding the pursuit by the pass rush.” This is about respect for the profession and Vick violated that respect, not just the law.

To be sure, great athletes like Vick are special and often get treated as such. But the bottom line is that the NFL doesn’t need Vick to survive and thrive. The NFL has done just fine without Vick the past two years. Goodell could have brushed off Vick’s request to play again like a piece of lint and the NFL would go on dominating the national scene.

And that’s the message Vick and other athletes need to understand. Those around Vick say he gets that message, which is good and hopefully true. But the reality is a little reinforcement is in order. Even before the dogfighting charges, Vick showed a callous attitude toward his job.

In November 2006, Vick flipped off the Atlanta crowd after a loss. Of course, that wasn’t enough to get him more than a fine, but it was troubling for a league that depends on those fans to survive and particularly troubling for a player in such a high-profile position. On top of that, right up to the time when Vick was going to go to prison, he was irresponsible. From the lies to his positive test for marijuana while awaiting sentencing, Vick continued to embarrass himself and the NFL.

Again, all of that can be repaired. Vick deserves a chance to resurrect his career. Those out there (and there are quite a few based on emails I get) who say you will never watch the NFL and/or that Vick is a terrible human being for having viciously killed dogs, ease up.

Yes, what Vick did was awful and disgusting and protests of his return are certainly fair. But it doesn’t trump rape or murder of a human being. It doesn’t trump what Bernie Madoff did. Moreover, we should open our hearts to Vick and hope that he can make himself a better person.

Vick served his time and paid a heavy price for his crimes. The millions he made are gone. Any chance of building a completely positive legacy has evaporated. He will always be known for his involvement in dogfighting.

But for those, like Owens and Dungy, who feel that enough has been taken from him or that precedence should allow him an earlier return, sorry, that doesn’t cut it. The punishments for men like Leonard Little(notes) or Alex Karras or Paul Hornung or Pacman Jones were based on the times when they happened and all sorts of other factors. In this case, Vick brought more punishment on himself by how he treated his employer along the way.

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Jul 27, 2009