Friday, September 07, 2007

A One-Post NFL Preview: Vick, Forgiveness, and Ewing

In another world, I might write a fairly lengthy, maybe even multipart preview of the NFL season, or write about my thoughts on the point spreads each week. But that would be a world in which I didn't care if any of my regular readers ever visited the blog again.

So instead, this one post about one NFL subject will suffice as my "preview." And that subject, unfortunately, is Michael Vick. I can't help it -- I don't think Vick deserves the time and attention, but I read two things about his situation over the past week, one that spurred a new thought and another that put a familiar name to something I had already been thinking.

First, Sports Illustrated ran a short piece that claimed Vick's redemption is not just possible but inevitable. This struck me as insane. I understood the premise of the argument -- that the only thing sports fans like more than judging is forgiving -- but I don't think it fully took into account the nature of the crime. It's true that star players get a pass for bad behavior all the time, and it's true that Vick is going to "pay his debt" with hard time, but still, his actions were a) premeditated, b) continuous, and c) taken against innocent victims.

His bad deed didn't fall into the categories most easily forgiven. It wasn't a moral transgression against another adult, like an affair; it wasn't a self-destructive act, like drug addiction; and it wasn't something that could be portrayed as a one-time lapse in judgment, like drunk driving. It's not the purest analogy, but what he did is more equivalent to prolonged child abuse, and I think even sports fans, so often willing to absolve the stars they cheer for -- to avoid cognitive dissonance, if nothing else -- will never feel comfortable aligning themselves with him again.

But that debate can only be settled in a year or two, at the soonest. For now, the Falcons take the field sans Vick, and while considering this Sunday's games, I had a hard time feeling like they were worse off. Then I read Bill Simmons' thoughts on the season, and remembered he had a name for this: The Ewing Theory.

In short, the theory states that teams often meet with better results after a high-profile player is traded, gets hurt, retires, etc. For a longer explanation, read this. What matters for now is how it applies to the Falcons, and I agree completely with Simmons, who writes:
Has the Ewing Theory ever fit someone more perfectly than Michael Vick? Look at the 2007 Falcons logically -- they self-destructed last season because of Vick (who struggled on and off the field) and Jim Mora Jr. (who ripped the heart out of his team by pining for another job midway through the season). Both of those guys are gone. Why is this a bad thing? I love their schedule (easy), their new coach (this year's Sean Payton, Bobby Petrino), their running game (the Jerious Norwood/Warrick Dunn attack), their rookies (they got three starters out of the top 41 picks) and the fact that everyone -- and I mean, EVERYONE -- is counting them out.
It's true that the Falcons could go 4-12 this year, but they could have conceivably done that with Vick. Like Simmons, I think they have a good chance to surprise people.


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