For those wondering or even hoping Mike Vick will face the same type of job market after being reinstated today by the NFL that Barry Bonds did in 2008 (or the average person does after losing their job these days), don’t hold your breath.
Vick may have spent two years behind bars in federal prison, for a crime that 99% of all Americans find far more abhorrent than lying about steroid abuse, but Vick won’t have nearly the trouble Bonds did finding someone willing to give him a chance.
In terms of their respective values to a team, they’re actually quite similar. Each player has/had significant abilities in one area of the game, but with limitations. Due to nagging injuries, weight issues and age, Bonds was no longer a viable defensive player last season. However, there was no doubt that he still had the talent to at least garner a chance as a designated hitter in the American League.
Vick has world-class speed and was shockingly elusive as an open-field runner before his stay at Leavenworth, but he wasn’t a particularly great quarterback (you know, if you count throwing and stuff). After two years away from football, it’s difficult to imagine he’ll be ready to pick up a new offense and become even a moderately accurate passer. And we all know his decision-making skills aren’t exactly a strong point. However, if Vick stayed in shape while in prison, it’s plausible he could be one of the top punt/kick returners in the league. Or, the best “Wildcat” QB/RB ever.
While baseball spends countless hours arguing about whether or not their best players should be even considered for the Hall of Fame (really, more Pete Rose talk?), NFL teams are apparently already calling Vick’s agent. Whether or not this is true or if it’s just posturing by Vick’s agent (although John Clayton is usually pretty trustworthy), everyone knows Vick will get his second chance.
Bonds didn’t just get the shaft due to age. Brett Favre’s pretty old, and he seems to have his suitors. Steroids? Shawne Merriman made the Pro Bowl during the same season he was suspended for using.
No, this is the difference between the MLB and NFL, between Bud Selig and Roger Goodell. Selig’s always on the defensive, gauging public perception and acting (or changing his mind) accordingly.
Goodell knows he runs a sport where people DON’T CARE what the players do on or off the field, as long as you hand out a multiple-week suspension. Stomp on an opposing player’s face like Albert Haynesworth? If you’re a beast against the run and destroy double-teams, get ready for the most lucrative free agent contract a defensive player has ever signed just a couple years later. Kill people while driving drunk like Leonard Little and most recently Donte Stallworth? Do your time and come on back.
The only NFL star who’s suffered an undue amount of backlash for off-the-field exploits was Ricky Williams, and that was because his crimes were ones against machismo: disloyalty to his teammates and a greater desire to live out his days as a dirty hippie than to shorten his lifespan as a modern-day gladiator.
Of course — like everything else in professional sports — this is all about money (which is why Ricky fought to came back and was finally accepted back to the team he turned his back on), and the NFL won’t become less popular because it allowed Vick to come back, just as the team that signs him won’t lose money. The Royals or the Orioles or fill-in-the-blank team wouldn’t have lost money by signing Bonds last year and making him their DH for 125 games, but that isn’t the point. MLB wouldn’t allow Bonds back in because they were worried about what the fans would say, and because Bonds made the establishment uncomfortable with his churlish ways and refusal to sign the Players Association licensing deal.
The NFL wouldn’t have cared. You can play? Someone will pay you? Just sit out for an arbitrary amound of games, and you’re good to go. We’ll be the top dog (sorry, poor choice of words) when you were gone, we’ll be the most popular league while you’re here, and we’ll dominate the sporting landscape long after you’re gone. It’s good to be king.