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TEXT OF COMMENTARY
Kai Ryssdal: Michael Vick is about halfway back to playing professional football after a year-and-a-half in jail for dogfighting. Yesterday NFL commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally reinstated the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback. That means he’ll probably be allowed to play again if he can find a team to sign him. Commentator and sportswriter Jon Wertheim offers some advice.
JON WERTHEIM: Just as Michael Vick is likely to learn a new playbook if and when — and I think when — he is offered a job, any NFL franchise considering Vick will do well to consult a new public relations primer. Vick is not the first convicted criminal or controversial player to get a second chance. But this is uncharted territory.
No player has “ever” ignited the firestorm Vick has or committed a crime that had such a visceral effect on so many. The standard “sports crisis management” manual is no good.
So, here is some unsolicited play-calling for prospective teams:
First, know your market. Just what constitutes an irredeemable act varies from community to community. But surely Vick’s dogfighting crimes and cruelty to animals, goes over particularly poorly, in say, a smaller southern NFL market such as Jacksonville or Charlotte.
Second, stress time served. Vick spent 18 months in federal prison. He has filed for bankruptcy. He’ll even be suspended for the first part of the 2009 season. No one is asking for pity. But a team would do well to make clear there’s been some retribution here.
Third, consider playing Vick somewhere other than his usual position of quarterback. The quarterback is, unmistakably, the team leader and the face of the franchise. Vick is sufficiently athletic that he could be a so-called “wildcat back,” a versatile player who could run trick plays, return kickoffs or even line up as a defensive back. Doing so — at least initially — would make his return something less of a cause celebre.
Fourth, tread lightly. The team that gives the appearance of trying to capitalize on Vick’s notoriety will face severe backlash. Resist any urge to sell his jersey in the concession stands or otherwise market his redemption.
And finally, winning sure wouldn’t hurt. Sadly, the moral outrage of hometown fans is inversely proportional to the success of the team. Would Kobe Bryant — he of the infamous Colorado sex scandal — have been welcomed back so lustily if the Lakers were still mediocre? Unlikely. Vick’s reception will depend on any number of factors. But his performance on those Sunday afternoons might loom largest of all.
RYSSDAL: Jon Wertheim is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. His most recent book is called “Strokes of Genius.”