Arts & Entertainment

Re-Picking Splinters

From time to time in this space I chide certain teams, players and even members of the media. Sometimes the issues change or new developments come to light, so to be fair, I thought I'd take a look back at some of my columns from earlier in the year and see if my opinion needs to be tempered a bit before we enter 2008.

In January I wrote that Major League Soccer bringing over David Beckham for $250 million was a questionable gamble. At the time I questioned if Beckham had anything left in his tank. He proved me wrong on that count, leading Real Madrid to the Spanish Premier League title in his final year with the team. For that achievement I touted the British star as a better pick than Brett Favre for Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. After an injury-plagued inaugural season in America that can only be labeled a bust, I still question if Beckham will pay dividends on American soil.

Before his arrival, he was huge news. Two games after his first appearance he was old news on a national scale and soccer was returned to the back burner. It was actually a bigger story that the New England Revolution had a chance to extend Boston's newfound sporting success, reaching the MLS Cup final before losing to the Houston Dynamo. MLS did not dish out $250 million for that kind of return.

One of the issues I harped on the most this past year was the repeated misconduct of some of the NFL's players, starting with Pacman Jones' strip club shooting and culminating in Michael Vick's dog fighting charges.

On March 8, I wrote the following about Pacman Jones, Chris Henry and Tank Johnson, all of whom faced criminal charges at the time: “By the time players reach the NFL, they ought to be able to figure out that hanging around with guys who carry hand guns and have short tempers is probably a bad idea. These players aren’t an unfortunate lot, they’re the lucky ones. They have the money (if not the smarts) to put themselves in an environment to keep themselves out of trouble. Instead, they provide alcohol to minors [Henry], throw $80,000 around strip clubs [Jones] and harbor small arsenals in their basements [Johnson]. Those were all choices made out of free will.

This stuff is common sense. Players aren’t being asked to calculate the next digit of Pi here. All they have to do is not break the law, just like the rest of us. If they do that, they can keep on cashing those ridiculous paychecks. Seems like a pretty fair deal to me. Common sense, however, seems to have eluded a number of the NFL’s members and if the league wants to keep its reputation clean, it is going to have to intervene.”

Thus far Godell has used an iron fist to punish trespassers and for that I applaud him. He has continued to issue suspensions for violations of player conduct and dismissed Pacman's appeal for reinstatement — a no-brainer considering Jones displayed zero contrition for his actions. But the issue of Vick is still on the table. He's been sentenced to 23 months in prison but his NFL penalty remains indefinite. So, should Vick be allowed back after his lock-up?

I say it depends on what effect his return would have on the league. Would he be a distraction? Would his return lead to boycotts or more picket lines by PETA? If Goodell judges that his return would be detrimental, I think he has every right to enforce a lifetime ban against him.

I've heard arguments that since he has paid his debt to society by serving in prison he should be reinstated into the league, as the NFL has no right to take away his livelihood. I disagree. Goodell has to put the best interests of the league ahead of a player who violated the law — and egregiously at that. No one is saying Vick can never work again, but saying he is no longer allowed to take part in an entertainment industry where image plays a significant role still sits pretty well with me. If Goodell allows him back, so be it, but it is his call to make.

In late April I criticized the Redskins for zeroing in on drafting safety LaRon Landry when they already had Sean Taylor. Back then I questioned Taylor's ability to play the free safety position, boy was I wrong about that. Landry has been a stud and Taylor was sensational. I stand corrected and saddened that Taylor no longer has to opportunity to prove me wrong every Sunday.