Feature:Opinion

Get off Michael Vick’s ass

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Bob Barr
Former Congressman (R-GA)
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      Bob Barr

      Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He was known as a staunch advocate for limited government and individual liberty --- passions which continue to be the hallmark of his post-congressional work as a practicing lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, and as a widely-read and listened to public speaker and columnist. His reputation in support of individual privacy earned him the moniker “Mr. Privacy” from the late New York Times columnist William Safire. Bob has published three books, including one that recounts his leadership in the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, “The Meaning of Is.” Bob also teaches a course on constitutional law and public policy at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School and serves as Chairman of Liberty Guard, Inc. a non-profit and non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting individual liberty.

The 2011 NFL season is barely underway, and already handicappers are predicting who will play in next February’s Super Bowl XLVI; some are picking the Philadelphia Eagles to represent the NFC. At the same time, certain football moralists are ragging against the new contract inked by the Eagles’ quarterback, Michael Vick. They should get off Michael Vick’s rear end and let him play football.

Vick signed with the Eagles two years ago, after completing a federal prison sentence for dog fighting. Many thought his football days were over, but the Eagles took a chance on Vick, despite heavy negative publicity. The team’s patience and foresight paid off, as Vick last year led the team to a division title and a playoff appearance.

This year, the Eagles rewarded Vick by signing him to a six-year, $100 million contract extension, though reportedly only $35.5 million of that is guaranteed. Still, the contract is among the league’s most generous and has set off a debate as to whether or not Vick “deserves” such a lucrative deal — more because of his past legal problems than anything having to do with his on-field performance.

For example, Chicago sportswriter Steve Gorches recently wrote, “He served his time in prison for the illegal act, but where did the ‘time served’ in the football world go?” This rhetorical question appears aimed at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has been notorious for coming down hard on players who violate the league’s Personal Conduct Policy but only suspended Vick for two regular season games upon his return to the gridiron in 2009.

Goodell, however, was clear that Vick has little leeway in his personal conduct and will be monitored closely; but he also noted that the NFL was “not looking for failure here. We are looking to see a young man succeed.”

It is not as if Vick is on Easy Street. In addition to being on the NFL commissioner’s watch list, Vick’s financial situation is not exactly assured, and he continues to pay heavily for his past legal transgressions. He reportedly still owes creditors $19 million; and Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com notes that of the $20 million Vick stands to earn this year, more than $6 million will go to creditors.

Clearly, Vick puts fans in the seats; not just because he is an explosive football player, but because his team wins when he plays. Whether because of jealousy or moralism by others, however, his recent success has engendered strong criticism. It shouldn’t. Vick made serious errors in judgment and behavior, and paid a heavy price — he served hard time and will always be a convicted federal felon (unless pardoned, which is unlikely).

Liberals and conservatives alike frequently speak in support of rehabilitation and second chances; but such rhetoric often falls victim to prejudices against individual persons who have been convicted of crimes. In this instance, everyone should simply get off Vick’s back and let him play football — something he does extremely well.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.