Thursday, August 30, 2007

NFL should not suspend Michael Vick indefinitely.

Michael Vick has pleaded guilty and will soon be sentenced to prison. I hope he gets the full eighteen months that prosecutors are asking for. In fact, I personally would prefer he get longer than that in prison.

As a direct consequence of his guilty plea and sentencing, Michael Vick will lose millions of dollars, regardless of what decisions the NFL or the Atlanta Falcons make. Vick will lose at least two years during the prime of his athletic career, which is itself worth a small fortune. And no matter how good prison fitness facilities are, or how hard an athlete takes advantage of them, they are not even close to the level of the training facilities he won't be using at the Falcons camp or training room. He won't have coaches to work on his passing style. An athlete who spends much time in prison faces an inevitable erosion of skills; exhibit 1 is Mike Tyson, who was never again the feared and effective boxer he had been before his career took a detour through the clink after he was found guilty of raping a teenage beauty pageant contestant. Further, Vick will certainly not be asked to appear as a spokesman for Nike or others who have paid him lucrative commercial deals in the past; they'd probably sell more shoes if they hired Osama bin Laden as a spokesman than Michael Vick.

To which I'd say, GOOD. Michael Vick deserves to lose all the money he could have made if he hadn't thrown it all away on breeding, destroying and torturing animals.

However, despite how repelled I am at his crime, the decision by the NFL to suspend him indefinitely is WRONG. Commissioner Roger Goodell certainly has the right to suspend players for cause, but he has done so for periods of time. To suspend indefinitely a player implies that he won't be given an opportunity to earn a living through the league in the future.

My problem with this is twofold:

1. The criminal justice system was established for the purpose of affixing punishment. If we don't like the punishment affixed then it is incumbent on any of us to lobby for a change in the law (as in the case of Georgia law which was changed but is still being used as the basis for sentencing in the Genarlow Wilson case.) It is not up to any individual, institution or employer to usurp the justice system and decide how to hand it out.

2. We can progressively punish a person in many ways. But denying someone employment when they get out is stupid. If a felon gets out of prison (and most do, sooner or later) and wants to forsake crime and do something else, then isn't it stupid to force him (I use that word by intent because most felons are male) to go back into crime because it is the only thing he can make a living at? It's already hard enough for a felon to get a job. As I once wrote in a post entitled, The prison that follows prison,

For example, we say that convicted felons have the right to seek employment. However, we have for years cut the budgets for prison programs that seek to educate inmates about a trade (I have first hand knowledge of several educational institutions that suspended or ended their prison programs because of state or Federal budget cuts). We have also cut funding for job placement programs and halfway houses for prisoners. So, not surprisingly, when people who get out of a long term in prison with nothing to show on their resume other than a long stint in prison, have trouble getting a job, they often find that the easiest, and perhaps the only, way to earn a living wage, is through returning to a life of crime. This is called, 'recidivism.'

Now, I'm not going to stupidly sit here and say that if we funded more of these things, you wouldn't still have recidivism. Some people are habitual criminals and you could hand them a million dollars in cash and make them the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, and the next day they would still be out running a con, knocking over a liquor store or beating someone up or raping or killing someone. People like that need to be in prison, and there is little anyone can do to change that. But I am saying that regardless of the success rate (or failure rate) of rehabilitation programs, we as a society have an obligation to TRY. Because except for lifers or people on death row, the rest of the prison population will sooner or later be out among the rest of us, either rehabilitated or not.

It's a fact that Michael Vick knows how to make a lot of money if he doesn't play football. He knows there is plenty of it in dogfighting. Do we really want to force him back to it in order to pay the bills?

Michael Vick is s disgusing human being but it is not up to the NFL or anyone else to usurp the authority of the criminal justice system and hand out their own punishments.


shrimplate said...

Under similar circumstances had Vick been a teacher, nurse, or doctor he may have likely lost his license to practice his profession. Indefinitely.

Eli Blake said...


I'm not sure I'd say he should though, unless there was some evidence that he was involved in (as a teacher) introducing kids to dogfighting. But then I supported James Hamm in his quest to become a lawyer too. I support revocation of a professional license only in the case of professional misconduct, professional incompetence or commission of a crime which by its nature endangers clients (i.e. pedophile teachers.) You may disagree with me on that.

The problem is that we've succeeded in creating a permanent class of criminals that have the scarlet letters 'felon' on their record, and can often get no more than menial jobs no matter how hard they try to change and play by the rules. In most other countries, there would be a much stronger support network both to train them and place them into another job.

Once someone is labelled as a 'felon' it is nearly impossible to erase the label no matter what the person does. And then we are suprised that the crime rate stays as high as it does, with the same people going back to prison. The reason is because crime is always available as a career option, and when you close all the other doors somehow the preaching about 'becoming a productive member of society' rings hollow.