Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Vick Gambled With Career, and Lost

Published: August 21, 2007

Michael Vick is almost surely going to jail and his football career is probably over. All the years he spent as a pampered celebrity in the general vicinity of education did not provide him with the insight that torturing dogs is not good and, besides that, could get him in trouble.

The plea bargain he struck with federal prosecutors in Richmond, Va., yesterday gives no real suggestion that he knows right from wrong. He does know that his former friends turned on him for the prosecutors, and that he is in big trouble, which is a start.

In one significant way, Michael Vick is part of the values of middle America: He is another symptom of America’s major gambling jones.

Up to now, Vick had been scrambling, looking for an opening, the same way he played quarterback — past tense, most likely. But yesterday, the play ended. By admitting to charges from the vile operations of the Bad Newz Kennels in rural Virginia, he could go away for up to five years, although he will probably serve only one.

That guilty plea should be quite enough for the N.F.L. to bar him permanently, particularly because of the gambling implications. These people who slipped furtively into the camouflaged farm Vick owned were not there just because they liked to see dogs chew each other to death. They were gambling.




Here we have Vick’s connection with mainstream America — the commercial on television showing a cute couple arriving at one of those upscale gambling dens, out where Americans used to grow food or make things in factories.

In the commercial, the two young suburban types shuck off their workaday duds at the door, eager to have some fun at the tables. America is hooked on that image, relying on lotteries to build roads and schools. In financing the vicious death machine out in the woods, Vick was right on with the so-called gaming industry. Hey, you never know. Fluffy might rip Spot’s jugular at 6-5 odds. Followed by a lounge act at 11.

Here’s something that might make a new reality show. We all love reality shows, don’t we? For a pilot of “Welcome to the Hoosegow”, I’d recommend putting The Crooked N.B.A. Ref, Tim Donaghy, in the same waiting room with The Dog-Torturing N.F.L. Quarterback, Vick, while they are measured for orange suits.

For plot purposes, Vick would probably think Donaghy is a weasel for violating the sanctity of his sport, while Donaghy would think Vick is a sadist, but then they discover their commonality: the culture of odds. They are Contemporary Americans. They make peace with each other and then they make a wager on who gets out first. (As the Geico Gecko, who, by the way sounds just like David Beckham, says, I’m just making that part up.)



The N.F.L. now has enough on Vick to justify keeping him out of the Atlanta Falcons’ uniform, probably forever. The league has sold itself as the bastion of American values and manliness — human pickup trucks barreling into one another at brain-destroying speed — but the league cannot be sending a dog-torturing quarterback out in front of the fans and the cameras, can it?

While the league suspends the occasional roughneck or steroid user for four games here or there, it has a much stiffer code for gambling. After all, the players need to be on the up-and-up for all those folks with the weekly betting cards in their hands on Sunday afternoons.

It does not matter if Vick actually pleads guilty to gambling. Dogfighting would be construed as gambling, and according to the league’s policy, gambling can be punished by “a suspension from the N.F.L. for life.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell is said to be awaiting a report by his staff. Yesterday, the league issued a statement acknowledging Vick’s guilty plea. It said, “We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons.” The statement continued, “In the meantime, we have asked the Falcons to continue to refrain from taking action pending a decision by the commissioner.”

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals issued a statement that it was “happy that swift action was taken in response to Mr. Vick’s dogfighting ring and we fully expect prosecutors to arrive at a punishment that fits the crime.”

The S.P.C.A. added, "The practice of dogfighting is not sport, ever — it’s cruel barbarism and must be stopped.”



The Associated Press reported this lovely tidbit, that about a dozen Vick No. 7 jerseys have been donated to the Atlanta Humane Society, which uses them for blankets and also to mop up.

That would be funny, except for the blood that was spilled in the woods on Michael Vick’s property, quite obviously with his active cooperation. Vick deserves a life away from football to ponder it.

E-mail: geovec@nytimes.com

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