Chandra Bozelko, Pratt Tribune, December 12, 2019
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell has resisted pressure to keep Michael Vick from acting as one of four “Legends Captains” for the NFL Pro Bowl, scheduled for Jan. 26 in Orlando, Florida. More than 560,000 people have signed an online petition to kick Vick off the roster, citing his 2007 conviction for dogfighting.
″(W)e have supported Michael in his, what I think his recognition of the mistake he made,” Goodell told reporters Wednesday. “He’s paid a heavy price for that. He’s been accountable for it. He’s worked aggressively with the Humane Society and other institutions to deal with animal rights and to make sure people don’t make the same mistake he made, and I admire that.”
Good on Goodell for this call. The NFL is modeling the reconciliation and redemption we need to conquer the myth of “black criminality.”
Crime and football recruit from the same neighborhoods. If you look at the top 15 incarcerators in the country from 2016 next to the 15 states with the most current NFL players, 12 states make both lists.
African American males are overrepresented both behind bars and on the gridiron. Even though black people are only 13.4% of the population, 37% of prisoners are black men as are 70% of NFL players.
The league has the highest number of arrests of all professional sports, so high that USA TODAY keeps a database on professional football players who get arrested. It contains 948 arrests since 2000. As of Feb. 1 the blog NBACrimeLibrary.com had listed about 350 arrests over 65 years, coming in second place behind what people deride as the “National Felon League.”
Goodell’s magnanimity toward Vick is a departure from the past. The NFL can be unforgiving.
Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice hasn’t played since 2013, right before he was caught on tape knocking out his then-fiancee in an elevator, a crime he calls inexcusable and for which he was granted a diversionary program, which permits certain defendants (particularly first-time ones) to avoid formal prosecution. And, about four years ago, the NFL banned from the Scouting Combine any player who’d been convicted of misdemeanor or felony violence, regardless of how old the conviction was.
I know there’s a difference between letting Vick play and giving him an honor, especially since his crime wasn’t a fleeting fight between dogs. Other animals were abused at the kennel Vick ran. His crimes were egregious and persistent.
But it’s vital that professional athletes, particularly black ones, aren’t seen as disposable once they make an error, even big ones.