Bob Smizik: Let's not put the bite on Falcons' Vick just yet
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Count me among the tens of millions of Americans who considers himself an unabashed dog lover -- man's best friend.
I'm fond also of the Constitution -- mankind's best friend.
The rush to judgment on Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick for his alleged involvement in a dogfighting ring, considering we recently saw much the same thing in the Duke lacrosse case, is disturbing and disheartening. How many times do we have to be deceived by the criminal justice system before we can put aside our rage and act like citizens, not fools?
The charges against Vick are serious. If convicted he figures to receive richly deserved jail time. The key phrase in the previous sentence is "if convicted."
He's nowhere near that status today and people who already have him guilty should remember the Duke lacrosse players. Three members of the Duke team were tried and convicted of rape by no less than the upper administration of that university, to say nothing of much of the public, long before the case went to trial. Turns out, there never was a trial. Charges were dropped, but the lives of the players were greatly disrupted and almost ruined by the same rush to judgment that prevails with Vick.
This is not to suggest Vick is innocent. It is to suggest it is the American way of doing things to allow this case to play out in the court system, not local television.
Twice on television last week, experienced and highly competent local sports anchors assured us Vick was guilty.
"Vick gave up his rights as a human being when he ceased being one," said FSN's Stan Savran, normally the voice of reason.
KDKA's John Steigerwald, a loud and articulate voice of his own brand of reasoning, was equally sure that Vick was guilty.
Wait a minute! What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty?
Obviously, this is an emotional issue. Dogs are helpless, lovable creatures and to treat them in such a sick and twisted fashion can arouse the worst in us. We want to reach out and severely punish the culprits, as well we should. Let's make sure, though, that we have the right culprits.
Strangely, there wasn't an iota of this kind of rage earlier this month when a man charged with driving while intoxicated killed five people from two different families on I-68 in West Virginia, near Morgantown. Those people, two adults and children ages 18, 15 and 12, also were helpless to defend themselves.
Although the utter devastation leveled on those families is too enormous to even comprehend, that tragedy did not strike the same nerve as the Vick case. If it had, there might have been a mob storming the gates of the Monongalia County, West Virginia, facility where the perpetrator is incarcerated.
Vick has been indicted, nothing more. That means he has been charged with a crime, not convicted of one.
That this is a federal indictment adds to the seriousness of the charge. Federal prosecutors are less likely to be motivated by anything but the law. They, unlike the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case, are not running for re-election. But nor are they flawless.
Tony Martin, a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins, was indicted on five counts by federal prosecutors in 1999 on charges stemming from money laundering for a drug dealer. It looked like Martin's career was over and he was going to jail.
But the trial had a surprise ending for many. Martin was found not guilty and played three more years in the NFL. Even the feds can be wrong sometimes.
The preponderance of evidence indicates they are not wrong about Vick. There is every reason to believe he is guilty. That doesn't mean, however, he should be suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. That would make Goodell a tough guy, not necessarily a right guy. If Vick is found guilty, his career will be ruined and so probably will be his life. There's no need to speed the process. Although Vick hasn't been the NFL's No. 1 citizen, nor has he been a repeat offender such as Pac-Man Jones and Chris Henry.
Nike, the giant sports apparel company, took a proper stance when it held up the release of a Vick shoe because of these allegations but did not cut its contractual ties. Considering the history of Nike, it was a stance probably taken in its own best interest. But it nevertheless stands as an admirable one. In a statement, Nike said, "We do believe that Michael Vick should be afforded the same due process as any citizen, therefore, we have not terminated our relationship."
We all would do well to adopt a similar philosophy on Vick until the justice system makes its final decision.
First Published July 22, 2007 12:07 am