UPDATE//1106 EDT//AP reports that Vick has formally entered the reported plea deal. Sentencing has been set for 10 December. In accepting Vick's guilty plea, Judge Hudson emphasized that he is not bound by sentencing guidelines, and can impose the maximum penalty of five years in prison.
"You're taking your chances here. You'll have to live with whatever decision I make," Hudson.
Later this morning, disgraced NFL star Michael Vick will formally enter a plea deal in a Richmond, Virginia, federal court, on charges of dog-fighting and conspiracy. The charges stem from Vick's role in a dog-fighting operation that was run from his infamous "Bad Newz Kennels" in rural Surry County, from 2002 until earlier this year.
After Vick enter his plea, Federal District Judge Henry Hudson will likely set a sentencing date for later this year. When he imposes punishment on the Falcons' quarterback, the penalties are likely to include 12-18 months in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000. Under his plea deal, Vick admitted to his role in staging dog fights and killing animals that "failed to perform." Vick's plea makes no mention of gambling on the blood sport, an admission that could cost him what's left of his NFL career.
While the expected jail sentence will keep Vick off the football field for at least two seasons, the former Virginia Tech All-American will pay an ever steeper price in lost wages, bonuses and endorsement deals. Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran the numbers in a story that was published yesterday--and the numbers are simply staggering.
According to attorneys, sports marketing experts and football executives interviewed by the AJC, Michael Vick's little hobby could wind up costing him in excess of $100 million, including $71 million in lost salary under a 10-year, $130 million contract that he signed in 2004.
According to the NFL Players Association, that contract calls for Vick to receive a salary of $6 million this season, followed by $7.5 million in 2008, $9 million in 2009, $10.5 million in 2010, $12 million in 2011, $12.5 million in 2012 and $13.5 million in 2013, plus incentive bonuses.
Now, all of that money could be gone.
The only part of Vick's contract that might matter now is the clause that allows the Falcons to terminate it if he "has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by club to adversely affect or reflect on club."
Michael McCann, a Mississippi College School of Law professor who often writes on sports legal issues, said the Falcons clearly can terminate the contract, although legal and salary-cap tactics will drive the timing of such action. For example, the Falcons probably would have to keep Vick under contract — albeit suspended without pay — until resolving the issue of signing bonus repayments.
"I think they're going to argue the signing bonus reflects an understanding Vick would play for the totality of the contract, and clearly he's not able to satisfy that," McCann said. "They're not going to get all of it back, but I think they have a pretty compelling argument to get some of it back."
How much could be debated, because of the creative way in which the Falcons structured Vick's bonuses for salary-cap management purposes.
Unlike Vick's football contract, the specifics of his endorsement deals with Nike, Rawlings and other companies have never been made public.
But in its ranking of America's highest-paid athletes last year, Sports Illustrated estimated Vick's endorsement income at $7 million annually. And Oregon's Swangard said that, if not for the dogfighting scandal, a "conservative" estimate of Vick's ongoing endorsement earnings over the next 10 years would have been an average of $5 million per year.
"There is $50 million on the marketing side that has disappeared," Swangard said.
Nike on Friday terminated Vick's endorsement contract without pay, and at least seven other deals have either been suspended or allowed to expire.
"There is no corporation that will touch Michael Vick again, ever," said Ronn Torossian, president and chief executive officer of New York-based 5W Public Relations, which has represented athletes and entertainers.
Given the barbarity of his crimes--training dogs to fight to the death, betting on those matches and personally killing dogs that didn't measure up--we'd say that Michael Vick is getting what he deserves. And, ordinarily, we'd agree that Vick deserves a chance to return to the gridiron, once his prison sentence is complete.
But letting Vick play again requires resolution of the gambling issue. The NFL--like other pro sports leagues--maintains a strict, zero tolerance policy on players wagering on any sport, for obvious reasons. With Vick's plea deal (and expected sentence) skirting around the gambling issue, it will be up to the NFL to investigate that matter, determine Vick's innocence or guilt, and if necessary, impose the appropriate sentence.
Officially, the league's investigation into Vick's activities is on-going. But the federal investigation turned up substantive evidence that Vick paid bets lost by "Bad Newz Kennels" from personal funds. A simple check of the quarterback's bank records may offer conclusive proof that Vick bet on dog-fights, giving Commissioner Roger Goodell enough reason to impose the ultimate penalty for illegal gambling--a lifetime ban from the league.
In our view, confirmation of Vick's gambling activities should be enough to end his NFL "career," once and for all. But, as we've noted previously, there are more than a few football coaches and general managers who'd be willing to give Ookie another shot, figuring he might have a few good years left after that prison stretch, and they can sign him for a fraction of his old Falcons' contract.
But, if Mr. Goodell is concerned about larger issues--namely, enforcement of the league's anti-gambling policy and its image as a while--then he must resist calls from within the NFL (and from the "civil rights" establishment) to give Michael Vick another chance. When the scope of Vick's gambling activities is finally established, Commissioner Goodell must impose the maximum punishment.
That's the real "bottom line" for "Ookie" Vick--and the National Football League.
ADDENDUM: In a few discussions of the Vick case, the word "tragedy" has actually been used to describe his fall. Admittedly, "tragedy" is an over-used word in the modern vernacular, often assigned to any unfortunate event, even those in which the "victim" (an ever more-overused term) is a willing participant. From our perspective, the only tragic aspects of the Vick case involve those animals who were killed or maimed for "sport" by the crew at Bad Newz Kennels. As for Mr. Vick, the synthesis of greed, arrogance, indifference and stupidity writ large are not the basis for tragedy. For his actions, the infamous "Ron Mexico" is getting what he deserves.