Union needs to fight for Vick

If all goes well for Michael Vick – and when it comes to modern pro football's most catastrophic squanderer of talent, well is a relative term – he'll be a free man by the middle of summer, just in time to resume his NFL career after a two-year absence.

At least, that's the way it should be. However, upon completing his stay in a federal penitentiary (and, perhaps, a halfway house), the Atlanta Falcons' fallen franchise quarterback will have to answer to an even stricter authority: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.


Will Vick be a spectator upon his release from prison?

(Chris Gardner/AP Photo)

In all likelihood, Goodell will extend Vick's indefinite suspension to include some or all of the 2009 season, meaning a man who already has lost his freedom, reputation and fortune will give up yet another year of football.

Meanwhile, the people who should be boisterously fighting for Vick's return – the ones in charge of the NFL Players Association – seem to be too scared of public rebuke and preoccupied with an internal political fight to advocate for his interests.

I'm fully cognizant that Vick, through his involvement in a federal dogfighting conspiracy and his immature and arrogant behavior, brought this situation upon himself. I do not condone his transgressions – which, according to the testimony of his co-defendants, included the murder of defenseless animals – and I realize that he damaged the NFL's brand in a very tangible way.

Further, Vick reportedly lied to Goodell's face back in April 2007, when the commissioner questioned him about his involvement in a dogfighting operation on his rural Virginia property. There are also issues of drug use (Vick tested positive for marijuana while awaiting sentencing in the summer of '07) and gambling (a central component of the dogfighting ring) which will impact Goodell's thought process.

If he doesn't come down hard on Vick, Goodell will incur the wrath of animal-rights activists, many of whom may choose to pressure the league's advertisers.

All of this explains why Goodell, upon Vick's release, will take his time in rendering a decision upon the quarterback's reinstatement. My guess is that, through a combination of deliberate consideration and additional punishment, the commissioner will keep Vick out of the NFL until about a year from now – at the earliest.

Since the NFLPA apparently has no stomach for doing its fiduciary duty and fighting for the rights of a dues-paying member, I'm going to stick up for Vick and argue that he should be allowed to return on a much tighter timetable. Assuming he enunciates remorse and responsibility for his actions, Vick should have his suspension lifted and cleared to ply his trade.

For one thing, the man has paid a steep price for his sins. By serving a 23-month sentence, he will have spent nearly two-thirds of the time in jail that ex-heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson did after a rape conviction. He has been pummeled financially as well. Once armed with a nine-figure contract and a healthy endorsement profile, Vick is now bankrupt, with about as much future commercial potential as impeached Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.

The Falcons have already said they don't want him – duh – and numerous other teams have indicated they're not interested in his services, either. If Vick signs on with a franchise willing to risk a potential backlash in a bad economy, he'll likely end up earning the NFL's minimum salary for a veteran of his stature plus incentives, and much of that money would probably go toward paying off previous debts.

Again, I'm not excusing Vick's actions, but I'm also aware that plenty of other NFL players past and present have been charged with and, in some cases, convicted of violent crimes against human beings. If we're going to start weighing offenses such as assault, domestic abuse, illegal firearm possession and involuntary manslaughter against dogfighting, then a lot of rosters might look different in '09.

If nothing else, there should be a transparent and coherent distinction that is evenly applied to league employees who are convicted.

Yet here's the problem: Goodell, thanks to the beefed-up personal conduct policy he unveiled in the spring of '07, is basically the sole judge and jury – and the court of appeals. The NFLPA, then led by the late Gene Upshaw, essentially ceded these powers to the commissioner in the wake of several high-profile disciplinary problems.

Certainly, cracking down on perpetual troublemakers such as former Titans and Cowboys cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones has been a good thing for the league. Yet I believe the union, in an effort to avoid negative publicity, gave Goodell far too much leeway to punish players while allowing him to ignore due process.

For comparison's sake, remember when Latrell Sprewell, then with the NBA's Golden State franchise, choked Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo in a 1997 practice? Virtually everyone in America was appalled, and Sprewell was understandably vilified. The team reacted by voiding the remaining $23.7 million of his contract, and the league handed down an 82-game suspension.

Though it was hardly an ideal public position, the NBA Players Association fought both moves. Why? Because Sprewell was a dues-paying member of the union, and unions advocate for their members' interests – period. Ultimately, the voiding of Sprewell's contract was overturned, and his suspension was reduced to 68 games.

The NFLPA, led by Upshaw, did fight for Vick's financial interests when his legal troubles began, helping to persuade a federal judge that the quarterback should be allowed to keep nearly $20 million of a roster bonus previously paid to him by the Falcons. However, to my knowledge, the union remained passive when it came to another issue: the length of Vick's suspension.

When Goodell announced in August of '07 that Vick had been suspended indefinitely, the commissioner was essentially saying, Let's see how much time you actually spend in prison, and after you get out, I'll reserve the right to tack on an extra term.

This is a totally bogus approach, and the union should have fought it loudly and publicly. Rather than rigging the length of Vick's absence to serve the league's interests, Goodell should have been forced to declare the duration of the punishment at the time of the offense. What Upshaw should have said: Tell us what the offense is, and hand down the sentence that applies to that offense. You can't just make it up as you go along.


Upshaw, left, and the union didn't put up enough resistance against Goodell.

(Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

Now that Vick's release appears imminent, this is the argument that the NFLPA should belatedly push. Yet interim executive director Richard Berthlesen and the union's other top officials appear to be preoccupied with the contentious fight over the naming of Upshaw's permanent successor, which is expected to come down next month.

Once that plays out – and don't get me started on what a mess the search is and how much self-serving scheming appears to be going on behind the scenes – perhaps the new union chief will fight to get Vick back onto the field. If I were Vick, I wouldn't count on it.

The man committed the wrong crime at the wrong time, and it looks like he'll keep on paying for it until Goodell is good and ready.

In my mind, Vick has served his debt to society, and I'd like to see him given a chance to find gainful employment in his chosen field.

Unfortunately for the quarterback, that's not likely to happen right away. When he finally gets out of his jail cell, he still won't have satisfied his debt to the NFL.


"To the assistant coach who told new Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, 'Hey, let's take advantage of being [expletive].': It doesn't work that way. I'm a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. Believe me. It does sooooooo not work that way."

Tony Cimaglia

I feel your pain, but in the 21st century NFL, it kinda-sorta does work that way … just not in Detroit.

"Must you pepper your writing with music references? Several sportswriters do this – does it make their writing cooler? I don't think so. If anything, it show that you don't realize that your demographic is much wider than your musical taste."

Andy K

I must. I must. (That was for you, fellow "Blazing Saddles" fans – an even wider demographic, I hope …)

"Jack White, 'guitar extraordinaire', 'axe master' … you don't listen to too many guitarists, do you, geek?

Michael Marro

My guess is I've been listening to killer guitarists since long before you were born, Mikey. But if it makes you feel better to think I'm a geek because I'm lauding the status of a guy who creates an entire wall of sound by himself, knock yourself out. (For what it's worth, Rolling Stone ranked White its 17th greatest guitarist of all time in 2003, with Jimi Hendrix obviously No. 1. Then again, Eddie Van Halen was ranked No. 70. WHAT?) Oh, and I ran this by Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, and his reply via email was, "Absolutely. Jack White kills it! … He hangs with Jimmy Page for Christsakes." But hey, maybe I'm a geek for liking Pearl Jam, too.

"What did you have in mind in regards to your last article … 'The Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs will complete a trade at some point over the offseason, and no one will find out about it for several days. …' The only thing I can come up with is Kansas City going after a QB. How about you?"


I was making light of the fact that both regimes (Mangini/Pioli) are so secretive. From what I can tell so far, even if the trade were a swap of seventh-round draft picks, each organization would treat its disclosure as an act of high treason.

"Great article. Just wanted to say I like how you worked into this article that 'not that there's anything wrong with that' phrase, that you used often in the article you referenced about the combine 'meat-market.' "


Thanks, man. I could kiss you. Not that there's … Well, you know.

" 'Man, I haven't seen such sensitivity toward the feelings of Cowboys since Brokeback Mountain (not that there's anything wrong with that).' Monsieur Silver, stop with the politically correct caveat – 'not that there's anything wrong …'; after all, the reason you made the quip vis-a-vis 'Brokeback' was to take a shot, albeit tongue-in-cheek (pun?), at gay sex. Indeed, anytime someone uses the 'not that there's …' qualification, he's simply trying to be offensive all the while providing cover for his a-- and that ain't no pun, ya dig? Bottom (pun?) line: If you say it, mean it; don't chicken out!"

Richard Drew
Los Angeles

Down, boy – it's a classic 'Seinfeld' line. That's all. You should probably join the rest of America in getting the joke. The premise behind it is that what anyone chooses to do sexually is none of our business.

"Brazinski is going to be awesome … He's obviously a smart guy. Not because he wants to go to business school, but because he put himself in position in to In-N-Out burgers on a regular basis! What an awesome letter that was to read."

Eric Long
Grand Forks, N.D.

My guess is he'll have more Double-Doubles than any Cal center since Brian Hendrick.

"I don't have question, more like a comment. I enjoy the draft more than anybody. But every year there's some QB that's a can't-miss pick. Everyone's saying the Chiefs and the Lions need a QB. I disagree. What is the point in the case of the Lions? Their O-line stinks. They're really bad. Offense starts up front. I teach that to my little leaguers. And you so-called experts can't figure that out. Now to the Chiefs. I think their QB of the future is in the building. That [Tyler] Thigpen kid has got talent, so coach 'em up. The guy can play. The Chiefs really shouldn't waste a pick on a QB. This thing has gotten longer than I wanted. Sorry. Also Mr. Silver. I'd like a reply."


Yeah, get in line. No, seriously, I agree that Thigpen is intriguing, and I hear what you're saying about taking quarterbacks at the top of the draft. There have been a lot of brutal misses, as I was just telling my favorite ex-Division II golf coach. Here's what I'd say, though. When you have a high pick – and, especially, the first overall pick – I believe that you should first determine whether there's a quarterback with a chance to be special. If you decide that there is, you take him, no questions asked. In theory, if you're doing things right, this will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity, so take advantage of it. That said, don't force it. If there's no quarterback you think has the makings of a star, draft the best available player and address your QB needs via other means.

"I'm alarmed by a trend among NFL players who receive the 'franchise tag' and go to the media complaining as though they had been robbed. In a time of unprecedented economic turmoil, it's unfortunate to hear young men who will make more in one year than many will make in a lifetime complaining about their circumstances. I understand the desire for a long-term contract but these guys need to give it a rest. When thousands apply for unemployment benefits each day, the prospect of a young man complaining about the millions of dollars he will make during the coming year is deplorable.


Yeah, I guess, but you have to consider these things in context. For one thing, the sanctity of a contract in the NFL is not what you might think it is. Owners routinely cut players – or compel them to take a pay cut under threat of being released – who still have time left on their deals. Basically, it's all about leverage, and players who complain about being franchised are bemoaning their inability to maximize their value on the open market. You may not cry for them, but remember that the owners are cashing in on an even grander scale. If you think that players and owners should make less given the current economy, my advice to you is to stop buying jerseys, attending games and, especially, watching them on television.

"That article on James makes him seem pretty crybabyish, if that's a word. At the bottom he said, 'I've been a pro, so why not let me go?' Uh, you still are a 'pro,' and you signed a pro contract. Crying about being benched for three games and saying you're moving on sounds like a teenager. I understand if he thinks he can do better somewhere else and asking to be let go, but ultimately, he's a 'pro' and signed a contract and is therefore bound to the terms therein. Who wouldn't like to play for a winner that is also in their home state? Good grief, I'd love to be a bikini contest judge in Hawaii, but I'm working for someone else right now. Sheesh, shut up and play and then when your contract is up, then go wherever you can or want to on terms you can negotiate."

Donovan Scott
Austin, Texas

Right, except that James contends he was told by one of his bosses that he'd be allowed to leave after this season. (Cardinals general manager Rod Graves has since denied this.) I think what James is saying is: Honor your word. Also, his desire to leave certainly isn't financially motivated. I think it's quite likely he'll end up taking less from his new team than the $5 million he's due to earn from the Cardinals in '09.

"Hey Mike, I've written a few times, not always complimentary, but never down right mean. This one's just to say that I applaud you for being such a wonderfully proficient writer; no matter any discord over opinion, your mastery of the craft is a given. It amuses me when people get so hot about the subject matter. If they don't want to read about Favre, or anything else, why don't they just skip that section or article, and check you out next week? Oh well, stay strong in the face of all the venom out there. Just remember, they'll be [expletives] all their lives. You only have to deal with them when reading their email. Imagine their poor dogs … "

Joshua Adams
Lindenwold, N.J.

All I can say is, real men have rabbits. (Or, perhaps, men trying to forestall the purchase of a dog.)

"Hey Michael, big fan of your work. Have been a big Kurt Warner fan for the last 10 years since I moved to the States and started following football. Why isn't Amazon selling your book on Kurt Warner anymore? I ordered it on Amazon a couple of months ago and it still isn't available. Keep up the great work."

McLean, Va.

Hmm, take it up with Amazon. In the meantime, this link should work.

"Mr. Silver, I would just like to say that your articles are great and I look forward to reading them all week! I would also like to state that you show no bias towards any one team [seriously] even though you probably get about 4,000 emails a week saying that you seem to favor some over others. It is a simple fact that some teams allow for more exciting and interesting stories and those happen to be the teams covered more frequently. It is also a pleasure to see someone who cares about grammar as much as I do. Your opinion is a great one. Go Giants!"

Joe Panza
Rochester, N.Y.

Thanks, Joe. As you know I am not necessarily in the crowd-pleasing business, but a little variety never hurts.

"You know, I've still not figured out why they use Roman numerals for the Super Bowl. Latin has been a dead language for, what, 1,500 years? Here now are some classic reasons why it is and shall remain dead. 1. Wow, that girl is a perfect X. 2. She even wrote her number on my napkin, VVV-IIVI 3. Xth Avenue Freeze-Out 4. '… at XLIII years of age, I could still experience an epic game like an awestruck little boy.' Michael, do you realize that had you not qualified the numbers in that last line above that your uber detractors, in order to mail you that perfect gift, would be rummaging through $I bins at thrift shops trying to find a 'You Suck' T-shirt in your size? You know, we don't look that bad for a couple of guys in our mid XL's. Keep up the good work."


Thanks. As my man Borat would say … High V!

"Another football season down and another great job you did writing about it. Anyone that gets pissed at you for cracking on their team needs to realize this is an editorial piece and get over it. Keep it coming."

Chuck P
Lubbock, Texas