Kick Vick Out

The Duke of Wellington, the man who defeated Napoleon, famously said “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”

Wellington's remark helps make clear what a central role sports play in society.  Far beyond merely providing entertainment, sports help mold the character of a nation. 

As children we learn facts and figures in the classroom, but while playing games at recess we learn how to win, how to lose, and the importance of playing fair.   Later on we play in organized leagues, where greater athletic demands help us develop discipline and accept personal responsibility.  The further we continue in athletics, the greater the demands and the greater the benefits: we learn leadership skills, how to work in a team, how to persevere through difficulty, and how to sacrifice our self-interest in the service of a greater good.  As we work to win championships, we learn to delay gratification and to set and achieve goals.  We learn how to get the best out of ourselves in the pursuit of excellence.

Nobody can succeed in sports without developing some very strong character traits.  That's probably why we look up to athletes.  In every human civilization successful athletes have been heroes, and for better or for worse, sports stars serve as role models for the younger generation. 

Sports are truly important to a nation, and that's why the NFL needs to bench Michael Vick.  Not just until he has paid his legal debt to society, but permanently.

By indulging in a particularly loathsome, barbaric hobby, a felony in his home state of Virginia and almost everywhere else in the civilized world, Vick has tarnished himself so thoroughly that he can no longer serve as a role model.  Football provided Vick with fame and fortune, asking in return only that he be a good citizen.  Vick responded by thumbing his nose at the National Football League and at American society as well.

Banning Vick will be a difficult decision for the NFL.  Thanks to his electrifying running skills, Michael Vick sells tickets like no other player in the league.  Even though the NFL is making money hand over fist, the league could feel a pinch if it banishes its highest-paid player. 

If so, the league ought to consider it a cost of doing business.  What happens if the NFL merely suspends Vick until he's served his time?  If the league allows Vick to return to the playing field, it will send an awful message to the nation's children:  you can get away with just about anything. 

More than money is involved here.  Moral principle is at stake.  Is the NFL merely a machine for making money, or does it realize that it is part of a community, and it has an obligation to the community? 

The nation has treated the NFL very well for the past 87 years.  The NFL ought to be glad to pay something back.

What would Wellington make of Michael Vick?  It's impossible to say, but with the disdain Vick has shown for simple right and wrong, the Duke probably wouldn't have trusted him in the British army.  Neither should the NFL's new commissioner, Roger Goodell, trust him in the league.  Goodell has already distinguished himself by sending several of the NFL's bad actors to the showers.  Now it's time to lower the boom on Michael Vick. 

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.