Monday, August 20, 2007

Ookie Cops a Plea

As expected, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors in his federal dog-fighting and conspiracy case.

Details of the agreement have yet to be released, but court sources (and media reporting) indicate that Vick's sentence will almost certainly include jail time, probably a year to 18 months in a federal minimum-security prison. Prosecutors originally imposed a deadline of last Friday to accept the plea bargain--or face additional charges--but the timeline was extended, as they negotiations continued with attorneys representing the NFL star.

Vick and his legal team are expected to appear in federal court in Richmond next week, and formally enter the plea agreement. In addition to jail time, the former Virginia Tech All-America is expected to receive a stiff fine and probation. A sentencing date has not been set, but it may be announced when Vick makes his latest court appearance next week. Federal Judge Henry Hudson, who is hearing the case, is known for his "rocket docket," so Vick and his co-defendants may have only a short wait before learning their fate.

Announcement of the plea deal was a far cry from the bravado Vick displayed when the dog-fighting allegations first surfaced in April. After federal investigators found evidence of dog fights and animal cruelty at the quarterback's property in rural Surry County, Vick told an Atlanta interviewer, "Man, all I have to worry about is winning football games."

But his confidence quickly faded as authorities uncovered more evidence that the Falcons star was a key player in a multi-state dog-fighting ring, and personally executed animals who failed to perform. The quarterback's expected defense took a further blow when his three co-defendants cut their own deals with prosecutors, agreeing to testify against Vick. When those plea agreements were announced, attorneys representing Vick began their own negotiations with the feds.

It was a stunning fall for a player once considered one of the "marquee" names in the NFL. Since the dog-fighting allegations first surfaced, Vick has become a pariah, both in the league and our society as a whole. Millions of dollars in endorsement deals have been cancelled or suspended; the Falcons quarterback has been hounded by animal rights activists wherever he goes, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been forced to suspend Vick temporarily; at this point, a season-long suspension seems almost inevitable.

In fact, the pending resolution of the federal case against Michael Vick places the matter squarely back in Goodell's court. And, the league commissioner faces a tough decision: given evidence of gambling in various dog fights, does Goodell impose a longer suspension on Vick, or levy the ultimate sanction, banning him from the NFL for life? The pending plea bargain apparently makes no mention of the associated gambling, leaving the league (and the Falcons) to wrestle with that issue.

Assuming that the NFL and the team also take a pass on the gambling accusations, then Vick will be free to resume his pro career upon release from prison. As it stands, the Falcons star will miss at least one full season (and possibly two), delaying his return until 2009 at the earliest. At that time, Vick will be almost 30 years old, and on the downhill slope of his career. There's also the question of how many teams--if any--would be willing to take a shot on Vick, given the nature of his crimes.

It's a sad--but appropriate end--for a man whose ghastly "hobby" brought shame upon himself and his profession.


Storms24 said...

Given the omission of the gambling charge, I'd bet the NFL levies the maximum two year suspension (which should just about coincide with his custody time). After that, Vick probably figures he can win a tryout on another team or at worst, play a year in Canada. Though I'm sure he's thinking about using his cell time for pumping weights and maintaining his street creds, its likely that his best football years are now behind him.

Unknown said...

I think you're probably right. Gambling is, in some respects, the "third rail" of professional sports. It's a problem, and much more serious than fans (or league officials) are willing to admit. But digging into the matter poses the risk of creating a far more serious scandal--one that could shake the NFL to its core.

Michael Vick was clearly betting on dog fights--in direct violation of league policies. And, it's a safe bet (pun intended) that other NFL players are gambling as well, and hanging out with the unsavory folks that such activities attract. But until a player gets snared in a "real: gambling investigation, the NFL will just keep whistling past the graveyard.

Vick's betting on a blood sport (instead of pro football games) gives the league an "out," and it seems clear that his NFL punishment will focus on the dog-fighting, and not the gambling aspect. By taking that approach, I think Roger Goodell is making a huge mistake, and blowing one of his first tests as NFL commissioner.