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In the public's hands

Vick's future will be determined by level of outrage

Posted: Friday August 17, 2007 11:41AM; Updated: Tuesday August 21, 2007 3:06PM
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Michael Vick's career is in jeopardy, but other players have come back from serious legal problems to play in the NFL.
Michael Vick's career is in jeopardy, but other players have come back from serious legal problems to play in the NFL.
Simon Bruty/SI
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St. Louis Rams defensive end Leonard Little killed a woman whose car he hit while driving drunk in 1998, and then six years later -- showing how he'd learned his lesson -- Little was stopped for drunk driving again.

Ray Lewis obstructed justice in a murder investigation. His then Baltimore Ravens teammate Jamal Lewis admitted to trying to set up a drug deal. There is an entire book, Pros and Cons, of stories of how NFL teams have employed convicted criminals like Little and the Lewises.

This is relevant, of course, because Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is considering a plea agreement to a federal conspiracy charge that would likely put him in prison for a year or longer. The obvious question -- does Vick have a future in the NFL if he goes to jail? -- seems easy to answer given those precedents. We have been told many times how talent trumps all bad deeds, that teams will take a chance on any player they believe can help them win. Why would Vick, whose talent is undeniable, be any different?

But from the start of the investigation into dogfighting on Vick's property in Surrey County, Va., this case has been viewed differently than others involving NFL players. The public fervor over Vick's alleged misdeeds has exceeded anything before it. The Humane Society of the United States has forwarded tens of thousands of e-mails to the NFL from people demanding that Vick be banned for life. Teams that have never employed Vick have gotten calls from fans threatening to boycott their games because they play in a league that includes Vick.

A common misconception is that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will decide Vick's fate. But whether Goodell suspends him for a year or two or more, he is not the final judge of Vick. It's the fans. We are a forgiving bunch, but rarely have an athlete's crimes felt so close. It's not hard to imagine what Bad Newz Kennels would have done to the family dog. And it's not hard to understand why fans wouldn't want to see Vick on their television on Sundays.

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