NEW YORK – The arraignment on dogfighting charges wasn’t the worst thing to befall Michael Vick on Thursday.
It was the additional year Roger Goodell tacked on to the suspension of Cincinnati’s Odell Thurman. It’s a stern reminder that the commissioner doesn’t fool around and that it will be a long time – if ever – before Vick sets foot on an NFL field.
Thurman’s case emphasizes an often overlooked provision in the league’s disciplinary policies: When a player is suspended for a year, he must apply for reinstatement, and the commissioner can refuse him. So Thurman, who missed 2006, now misses 2007 and will be allowed to apply for reinstatement in 2008.
In Vick’s case, it means he almost surely will miss this season – either by taking the voluntary leave the league would like him to take or by suspension after the league’s investigation into the charges against him. Depending on the outcome of his court case – and federal cases in Richmond have a very high rate of conviction – 2008 looks unlikely.
Then there’s the public outcry at the horrific nature of the charges – dogs being electrocuted, tortured and killed. Not only are animal-rights groups revolted, but so, too, are average fans. A poll in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday found that 65 percent of those surveyed thought Vick should be banned from the NFL if he is convicted. That sentiment surely isn’t limited to Atlanta, meaning he would create unwanted turmoil in any stadium.
Vick pleaded not guilty to charges, but still hasn’t talked about them. His lawyer, Billy Martin, read a statement on his behalf that said:
“I take these charges very seriously and look forward to clearing my good name. I respectfully ask all of you to hold your judgment until all of the facts are shown.”
In the best-case scenario, Vick would miss the 2007 season, get acquitted and try to return for 2008.
It’s unlikely it would be with the Falcons, whose owner has made it clear he’s had enough of the young man he treated like a surrogate son the past few years.
If Vick is not jailed and suspended, someone might take a chance on him. But “might” is being generous.
The NFL team that most often picks up players with a past, the one that plays on the east side of San Francisco Bay and wears silver and black, invested the first pick of April’s draft on quarterback JaMarcus Russell.
The Raiders or any other team that signs Vick, guilty or not, will face demonstrations outside the stadium and booing within, an atmosphere no team wants. Plus, there would be the kind of media coverage that owners and coaches hate.
But what if jail is where Vick is headed?
He could be forced to miss the 2008 season and then would be subject to Goodell’s discipline, which would make 2009 iffy.
Suddenly, it’s 2010. Vick would be 30 and would have missed football for three seasons. And he’s still a big public relations problem.
“I don’t care if he’s a star player or the 53rd player. They all reflect on the National Football League,” Goodell said.
Vick and his advisers must hope he’s allowed to play this year and that he’s ultimately acquitted. They also must hope Goodell goes back to his first reaction – innocent until proven guilty.
That is by no means a sure thing.