Wednesday, May 30, 2007


With all of the attention Braylon Edwards gets as the Cleveland Browns team malcontent, just be glad of one thing: he’s not Michael Vick. The enigmatic, and that’s putting it charitably, quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons has been the kind of lightning rod for criticism and distraction that a wannabe like Edwards could only hope for.

Take a look at just the last year. In April, 2006, Vick had to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed that Vick allegedly gave her herpes. Remember this incident as we’ll come back to it in a moment. Moving forward to the football season, following a loss to the New Orleans Saints last November, which was the Falcons fourth straight loss, Vick gave the fans the one-finger salute.

Fans, in general, are a forgiving bunch. They’d root for Hitler if he was on their team and could rush for a thousand yards. But there is something about giving the fans the finger that they find hard to forget. That’s why the Falcons public relations department had to spring into action so quickly to write Vick’s apology, which appeared on their web site soon after the gesture. Said Vick Joe the public relations guy “First and foremost, I would like to apologize for my inappropriate actions with fans today. I was frustrated and upset at how the game was going for my team, and that frustration came out the wrong way. That’s not what I’m about. That’s not what the Atlanta Falcons are about. I simply lost my cool in the heat of the moment. I apologize and look forward to putting this incident behind me.”

The problem for Joe the public relations guy is that he violated the first rule of ghostwriting: know your speaker. And if Vick has proven anything since this incident, it’s that giving the finger to the fans is exactly what he is about and could care less about putting that incident or any other behind him.

Just a few short months later, in January, 2007, Vick came under police scrutiny when he tossed a suspicious “water” bottle away before boarding a plane at the Miami airport. Police, retrieving the bottle, said it smelled of marijuana and contained a hidden compartment that contained a “small amount of dark particulate.” Apparently, though, there was not enough of the “dark particulate” on which to draw any conclusions and eventually police declined to file any charges against Vick.

Still, it was unwarranted scrutiny for Vick and the Falcons, forcing the overworked p.r. staff to once again spring into action to explain why Vick found it necessary to carry such a curious container, particularly in an airport. This time, under the name of Vick’s attorney, a statement was issued that said, in part, “Michael intends to spend this offseason focusing on his family, working with his teammates and the new coaching staff to insure that the Falcons have a great season in 2007, and devoting time to his charitable interests.”

Indeed. Who knew that dog fighting was the charitable interests that Vick had in mind? In late April, police, conducting a drug investigation, raided a house in rural Virginia owned by Vick. Whether drugs were found isn’t know, but what they did find, according to ABC News were dozens of dogs, pit bulls mostly, a dog fighting pit, blood stained carpets and other dog fighting paraphernalia. According to a confidential source, Vick is one of the “big boys” of dog fighting and bets tens of thousands of dollars on individual fights.

Up until the investigation of Vick, no one heard much about dog fighting. On the list of societal ills, it probably doesn’t make the top 10 but as an extreme form of animal cruelty it is a felony nonetheless in every state but two. But clearly many see it as victimless and trivial and can’t see what all the fuss is about. At least that’s what Clinton Portis and Chris Samuels of the Washington Redskins essentially thought when they defended Vick and his “private” activities in an unguarded moment speaking to a reporter while the cameras were rolling. Both suggested that prosecuting Vick would be ridiculous and unfair. Of course, once the team and the NFL got hold of the quotes, Portis and Samuels, through the Redskins p.r. staff, quickly backtracked so as not to also implicate themselves in such activities.

Wherever one comes down on this issue, this much is certain: it’s not something that a team’s quarterback ought to be occupying his time with. It’s hard to imagine either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady having such a sordid hobby. The Falcons p.r. staff, clearly tired of dealing with Vick and the messes he creates, has almost stopped trying to defend him. In easily one of the most fascinating statements ever issued by any team anywhere, the Falcons said, in response to the ABC News report, “Michael was drafted by the Falcons in 2001. The allegations regarding him are still under investigation, and until we have facts related to the investigation, we are unable to respond further.”

No talk about pursuing any bogus off-season charitable endeavors. No happy talk about putting the allegations behind him. No assurance, actually, that they even expect Vick to be cleared of the charges. In that context, the curious statement about Vick’s draft status is all the more understandable. Given his history of making the team look ridiculous, the p.r. staff knew that is was the one statement that they knew would still be true a few weeks from now. The guess, though, is that it will ultimately prove to be the one true statement from which they’d most like to escape.

With all of these animal cruelty allegations hanging around, the lack of comment from Vick is probably understandable. But one thing is for sure, if you want him to talk just question his manhood.

In early April, a few weeks before the dog fighting allegations surfaced, a web site that purposely and clearly publishes fake news had a story suggesting that Vick is gay. It was clearly a spoof as the web site’s address,, would suggest. But the story circulated on the internet like only stories like this can, prompting Vick, just two days after the dog fighting allegations came to light, to call into an Atlanta radio station. Rather than address the more sordid issues, he used the forum to let the ladies know he’s still a player off the field as well. He told the shows hosts, “everybody who knows me, knows how I get down. It’s not even an issue.” The lawsuit he settled over allegedly infecting a woman with herpes should have been enough evidence of that. See? There is a circle of life.

Given Vick’s rather interesting off-season, it would hardly surprise if new Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino is re-thinking his decision to leave the relatively controversial-free Louisville Cardinals program. And to spurned Cardinals boosters, they’re probably relishing just a bit in the kind of trouble Petrino has seen since making his deal with the NFL devil. Still, it’s a tough situation to witness.

Which brings us back around to Braylon Edwards. His latest misstep, just days after he presented the “new” Braylon Edwards by donating a $1 million to a scholarship fund for inner-city students, was to be the only no-show on the first day of the team’s “voluntary” workout. Reports indicate that Edwards was in Ann Arbor attending a charity golf outing. Edwards, demonstrating the kind of backward leadership that makes sense only to him, refused to comment on the absence directly, leaving the coaching staff and the other players to repeatedly answer questions about his absence. With Edwards, he only talks when it suits him. In the rare moments his teammates actually need him to open his pie hole, Edwards usually disappears leaving them to dangle in the wind.

Edwards has been a marginally productive player in his two seasons with the Browns and is more noted for the many manifestations of his “me first” mentality, but for all the distractions he’s created in his short time here, the one thing Browns fans can be thankful of is that he’s not Michael Vick, at least not yet.

But that’s more a statement about the state of professional athletes these days. We’ve been reduced to parsing the severity of leadership lapses in order to keep perspective. When compared to someone like Vick or any number of the players on the Cincinnati Bengals, we may be grateful that Edwards is just a loud-mouth self-serving malcontent and not a societal miscreant with deeper demons. But in the end, what’s the difference? For teams trying to find their way out of abyss, any distraction is harmful. If Edwards is watching, this is really the lesson he needs


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