Start With Michael Vick And End With Ryan Leaf …

I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails from readers in the past few days regarding my idea that the NFL needs to find a way to keep Michael Vick at arms length until this case is resolved one way or another. As is often the case when one tries to take a moderate position on something, one gets excoriated by folks on both sides of the issue. Keeping Michael Vick at arms length but not banned from football is not tantamount to supporting animal abuse; keeping him at arms length is not an assumption of his guilt; it is merely a way for the league to carry on its pending business – the 2007 season – without the negative publicity that will hang over that pending business from the process that will ultimately resolve Michael Vick’s case. I didn’t say he should be shunned; I didn’t say he should be denied his living (a paid leave of absence certainly doesn’t do that). I think it is best for the NFL to find a way to allow themselves to put the focus on football – that is their business after all – and not the legal problems of one of their stars.

When a police officer is involved in a shooting, (s)he is usually put on administrative leave until there is a determination as to what happened that caused that officer to shoot someone. If nothing is wrong, the career is resumed and nothing untoward happens; if (s)he did something wrong, then there has to be accountability. And that seems to me to be what the NFL needs to find a way to do here.

Having said all of that, there is one aspect of the Vick investigation that has received far less attention than the animal abuse aspects of the matter. I’m not trying to downplay animal abuse; there isn’t any need for the “doggy people” out there to send me nasty-grams; it’s just that the animal abuse part of this story has dominated the coverage so far. The less reported aspect of this matter is gambling; there are some minor parts of all this that indicate that there was gambling involved relative to the dogfights. Normally, I am a defender of gambling because it is a human behavior that is going to happen anyway and laws to try to ban it are feckless endeavors. In this case, gambling might just be an “out” for the NFL.

If – I said IF – there is credible evidence that Michael Vick bankrolled or participated in a gambling enterprise that was associated with or existed in parallel with the dogfighting enterprise, then the NFL has precedent for a suspension for one year. Back in the 1960s, Paul Hornung and Alex Karas were both suspended for one year for gambling. Karas’ case is particularly relevant here; he owned – or was a part owner – of a bar/restaurant where gambling was commonplace and there were rumors of ties to the underworld. Both players were reinstated to the NFL after sitting out one season and that is probably just the time that the NFL needs as breathing room in this situation.

By the way, there is a story – probably an urban legend – that after Karas returned to the NFL he went to the center of the field as the defensive captain before a game. The referee asked him as defensive captain to call the coin toss. Karas supposedly said he couldn’t do that because the league told him when they reinstated him that he could never gamble again. Even if that’s not true, it’s a good story and my mother-in-law used to say that you should never spoil a good story with the truth…

There is an irony involved in this Michael Vick mess that hasn’t received a lot of attention. Recall that the Falcons acquired Vick via a draft pick exchange with the San Diego Chargers. The Falcons got to draft Vick; the Chargers drafted LaDanian Tomlinson and Drew Brees that year. In terms of on the field accomplishments, I think it’s pretty clear that the Falcons got the short end of that stick but there is another irony here. The NFL gives out the Walter Payton Award to its “Man of the Year”. Suffice it to say that Michael Vick has not been a strong candidate for that award in the recent past. But this year the Award was given to two players as “Co-Men of the Year”. That’s right. Drew Brees and LaDanian Tomlinson got the award.

The NFL has something else going on that fans may not want to happen. The City of New Orleans has sent a proposal to the NFL to move the NFL Draft from NYC to New Orleans. Why would I intimate that fans don’t want this to happen? Well, it isn’t because I have anything against New Orleans or Cajun food or anything like that. It is because of what the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports is in the proposal to the NFL. New Orleans says that it will augment the NFL draft with a weeklong menu of activities culminating in a “Mardi-Gras style parade” leading to the start of the draft. Folks, the NFL Draft is already overblown and over-hyped; a weeklong series of over-the-top events like this would be a mini-version of the Super Bowl week with the parade mimicking the Super Bowl halftime show. Tell the truth, do you really need or want two such happenings each year? I don’t.

Another surefire way for me to get e-mail comments is to say something critical about soccer in general or David Beckham in particular. So, let me try to make a moderate comment about soccer and see if I can dodge the “you are-a-moron comments”. A senior official with the Real Madrid soccer club said that David Beckham generated $600M in revenue for that Spanish team in his tenure with the club and that he should do that again with the LA Galaxy because the US market is so big. Obviously, I have no way to verify that $600M figure for the Spanish team so I’ll take it as a fact. However, here’s why I don’t think David Beckham will come anywhere near that figure for the LA Galaxy.

The LA Galaxy and most of MLS is or was owned by AEG. This is a company that derives its resources from the wealth of its founder and that wealth is measured in the several billions of dollars. This man and this company are not naives in the business world; they didn’t amass assets in the several billions of dollars category by being stupid or blind to opportunity. Therefore, if those folks saw the realistic possibility that they could generate $600M in revenue by signing David Beckham to a contract for $250M, that would generate for them a gross profit of $350M. Even a business dolt such as I can see that would be a good thing. But that’s not what they have done.

Subsequent to signing David Beckham, they have sold off teams in MLS that they own to others and they have added a team to the league and they structured this Beckham deal such that the league owners would share in the profits that he generates for the league. I conclude from that behavior that they don’t see $600M coming in the door because I don’t think there would be a strong impetus to dilute their share of such a revenue tsunami were it a realistic possibility.

Finally, a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“A Wilmington, Del, filmmaker, Tim Carr, is producing and starring in Leaf: An Almost True Story, a movie about Ryan Leaf. Seriously. Which might explain why Mr. Carr is a filmmaker in Delaware.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…

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