Roger Goodell’s reputation as the law-and-order commish of major-league sports remains intact following his decision to conditionally allow Michael Vick back into the NFL playpen.
Not that Goodell had much competition. The NBA guy thinks you enforce discipline with a dress code. The baseball guy was too busy counting money to see the players go all Bruce Banner. The American soccer guy just fined a gazillionaire, David Beckham, sofa cushion money for being a thin-skinned cheese doodle to fans.
Goodell’s stiffest competition may come from abroad, where Formula One honchos suspended the entire Renault team for the next race because of concerns that the team was a bit lax about safety — something about a tire flying off of a car during the previous race.
Anyway, smart guy that he is, Goodell channeled his inner Judge Roy Bean. He appeared tough, but left himself some latitude and in the process almost certainly benefited Vick.
Goodell’s conditional reinstatement permits Vick to latch on immediately with any team that will have him, with full membership and participation. Vick can even play in the final two preseason games.
Vick is suspended for the beginning of the regular season, but again can show up at headquarters and do all the heavy lifting required to fit in and come back.
Goodell said he will make a decision on full reinstatement no later than Week 6 of the NFL season (Oct. 18-19). That also means — and this is important — that Vick could run around on Sundays by mid-to-late September, provided he dots his I’s and crosses his T’s to Goodell’s satisfaction.
That’s about as good a deal as Vick was going to get. A concrete and lengthy suspension would have made it that much more difficult for him to hook on with a team this season.
Under conditions of this reinstatement, however, any team that takes the plunge will have a better gauge of Vick’s capabilities. Ownership and staff, as well as his prospective teammates, will know that he could be available for almost the entire season.
Why such a magnanimous gesture by Goodell after Vick lied to him about his role in the dogfighting operation that landed him in the soup and dragged the league’s image through the mud?
A couple of reasons come to mind. Unlike some other cases involving various examples of knotheaded or criminal behavior, Goodell didn’t have to play judge, jury and executioner with Vick. The feds took care of it for him.
Vick has paid a far steeper price than nearly anything Goodell could have imposed, had everybody come clean and ’fessed up from day one.
While Goodell is the Big Stick, he and the owners don’t want him to micromanage the work force, either. Truth be told, neither do you.
You want to see the best players, you want your team to win, and your level of outrage and disgust is often directly proportional to the color jersey a player wears.
Besides, you start moralizing where professional athletes are concerned and things can get sticky in a hurry. Is this dogfighter worse than that wife beater or that steroid user or some serial adulterer?
Now, the opportunity rests in front of him again. The window is smaller and the time shorter.
Vick caught a break from a man who didn’t have to give him one, from a man smart enough to be tough and tough enough to be smart.