What if Michael Vick played basketball?
Thursday night, the Philadelphia Eagles signed former Falcons QB Michael Vick.
I am not among those who thinks Vick should be banned from the NFL for life, or wasn't punished. He did terrible things, but went to jail and paid fully the penalty assigned to him by our justice system. I'm not talking about probation or house arrest. Vick went to big boy jail, and stayed for a long time. Not long enough for some, but hardly a slap on the wrist. As a GM in the NFL, I wouldn't have done it, but don't object on a moral level that the Eagles came to a different conclusion.*
But as a fan, would you want him? If Michael Vick was a point guard instead of a quarterback, would you be accepting if the Lakers brought him to LA? What if you knew he could improve the team, helping provide depth behind Derek Fisher at a position of relative weakness for the champs?
To some extent, Lakers fans have already dealt with some of these issues after the team signed Ron Artest. I'm not comparing the Palace Brawl, which was neither premeditated nor ongoing, with Vick's history of dogfighting, but it was nonetheless a terrible incident and a black eye for basketball (for which, it should be noted, Artest paid a major price.) Artest has also had issues involving dogs, though he's been forthcoming about his errors and has worked hard to make amends. Again, I'm not equating his offenses to Vick's, only noting that Artest comes with baggage and controversy attached.
Despite that, Lakers fans have been generally accepting of him, both because many think (correctly, I would argue) Artest has paid his dues since The Brawl, but more importantly because he can help the Lakers win another title. And that, more than anything, is the motivation for fans. Manny Ramirez was welcomed back with open arms because he makes the Dodgers better. Rams defensive end Leonard Little killed a woman in a drunk driving accident over a decade ago, but was welcomed back by fans in St. Louis because he became an incredibly productive player.
But where is the line? If you knew Michael Vick, or some NBA player who commits a serious crime down the road, could help your team, would you cheer for him? Would you stop buying tickets? Stop watching games on TV? Going back to the previous question, if Vick was in purple and gold to play point guard, would you be accepting? Does it matter if he's been punished by the justice system? By the league?
In a perfect world, we want our teams to win titles with a roster of saints and matinee idols. Unfortunately, none of us is pristine, including our athletic heroes. Portland fans disliked their JailBlazers of a few years back, but would they have felt differently if that group won titles? Would Bengals fans, who have watched what seems like an every-hour-on-the-hour parade of arrests in the past few seasons, be on board anyway if there were Lombardis to go with it?
I'd love to think I'd draw the line and would stop supporting my squads if they stacked their rosters with too many players of ill repute, but am self aware enough to realize that the line isn't as static as I'd probably like.
*My problems with signing Vick are based in part because of his crimes, but are more a football question. I don't think Vick was good enough earlier in the decade to make it worth the trouble. Check out where he lands on the list of career QB rating. The career completion percentage (53.8) scares me, too. Given that he wasn't a terrible accurate QB before, will his throwing and running skills be as sharp after a couple years behind bars? I wouldn't have been the one to find out.