Michael Vick Versus The World
You see the name and you either love, hate or are indifferent. I'm of the currently indifferent camp, though that could change. In full disclosure, football is my third favorite sport, and the Eagles are a team I consider one of my favorites (along with the Rams and Steelers). That said, I'm not a fan of individual players, and Vick has never been one I really had any feelings about. I find his crimes horrible, don't know how I feel about second chances, and don't know exactly how I feel about the Eagles signing him.
But I am fascinated by it.
Jeffrey Lurie was obviously conflicted about the entire thing. Here he was, a man who had a sports team (where the only emphasis should be on winning) confronted with the opportunity not only to have a player of Vick's caliber, but the chance to take him away from other teams. The only problem? He found Vick's crimes "despicable" and stated he needed to see a lot of "self-hatred" in Vick. Strong words. In fact, I'm not sure I can point to a team where I've seen someone in Lurie's position say such a thing about someone his team just signed. Not even in the real football (soccer), which has its share of problem players.
No one in the media seems to be doubting Lurie's words, or even the fact that he was so conflicted over the decision. Andy Reid, being a firm believer in second chances due to his own personal family problems, was almost a given in his support. As was Donovan McNabb. Lurie, however, was the wildcard. He could've tanked the deal, and many say he should have. He didn't, though, and now we are here.
Lurie wants Vick and the Eagles to be agents of social change. The Humane Society is said to be working with Vick. Vick has said, heartfelt or not, that he apologizes for his crimes (in different words delivered with all the flair of an emotional cripple). EA Sports is most likely going to put him in the Madden 10 update, as I covered in my other blog, 8 Bit Disasters. Reid wants the Eagles to have a potential weapon (there is a slim chance Vick may never play a season game as of this writing). The fans are divided. Non-fans are divided. It's a fascinating story that brings together topics rarely associated with one another.
Professional sports. Animal rights. Second chances. Cultural mores. The role of a sports team. The role of corporations. It has the potential to bring about a lot of different discussions ranging from racism to the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). In that sense, America's oddly named football joins the ranks of the real football.
The Eagles may have made a horrible PR move, but it made a smart football move (though it did take a gamble that may fail financially but work strategically). The fans will be the final deciding vote on all this. It is doubtful they will stay away. But if Lurie is serious about wanting to bring about social change, and Reid is serious about second chances, then maybe they did the right thing.
I've written a comment on this subject on the Pretty Nameless blog. It was half sarcastic, but I was serious about the second chances part. Even if a person doesn't agree with second chances for some crimes (and I am one of those), we should never take that power away from other people.
This debate isn't over. Not even close. I suspect it will get even better, and I'm curious as to how it plays out. At the very least, this is a nightmare situation that could very well blow up in the Eagles' face. So far, however, Lurie and company have handled this just right in the media. There was obviously a lot of thinking that went into this decision, and I would love to read the transcript of the meeting, as I'm sure Vick was grilled unlike any other player in recent history. And in the end I think Lurie still has his doubts. But he's not shying away from anything, and I believe his words. (If I recall correctly, this is a guy who still mourns the loss of two family dogs from cancer a few years back.) Will the fans care, though?
We'll see soon.