f there’s one thing “Last Chance U” star Brittany Wagner said at a recent speech at Benjamin Russell that stuck with me more than anything else, it’s one of the uglier realities about the sports world.
“Unfortunately, here’s the truth: The greater your athletic ability is, the less your character sometimes has to be,” she said. “And that’s just the truth.”
Convicted felons have a hard time getting a job at McDonald’s or Walmart — but if they’re really good football players, they can be ushered back into the NFL like it’s nothing.
Although Ray Rice actually never played again for the Baltimore Ravens, he was technically suspended by the NFL for only two games for an incident where he had a physical altercation with his then-fiance. He also, by the way, settled for more than $3 million dollars with the Ravens for his “wrongful termination” after his suspension.
Among many cases, Donte Stallworth and Leonard Little were both charged and pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter, received slaps on the wrists from the justice system and played again in the NFL.
Possibly most famously — and most disgustingly — Ray Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in relation to the death of two men. He was originally charged with two counts of first-degree murder, but the charges were dropped and Lewis went on to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year the very next season.
This doesn’t include the litany of players who have been accused of sexual assault — Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are chief among those in recent years — and many, many other similar incidents.
But, like Wagner said, “The greater your athletic ability is, the less your character sometimes has to be.”
And now we’re bringing back Michael Vick of all people. After serving 18 months in federal prison for his participation in an illegal dog fighting ring — among other charges — Vick was “suspended indefinitely from the NFL.” Whatever that means because Vick was released from prison in early June 2009 and was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 13, 2009 to a one-year contract.
I guess the NFL considers his time spent in literal federal prison to be good enough for his “indefinite suspension.”
Just over two years later, Vick and the Eagles agreed to a 6-year, $100 million contract with almost $40 million guaranteed, making him one of the highest paid NFL players at that time. That was a mere four years after he spent time in federal prison as a convicted felon for killing dogs.
But “the greater your athletic ability is, the less your character sometimes has to be.”
If Vick wasn’t a great football player, if he didn’t have that sheer talent, if he had’ve been just an average Joe like you or me, do you think his job would’ve welcomed him back with open arms and a pay raise? Please.
Now, Vick is going to serve as an honorary captain at the Pro Bowl despite hundreds of thousands of people signing a petition against the NFL’s decision to do this. This is also coming amongst the Colin Kaepernick controversy; Kaepernick is virtually finished in the NFL after kneeling during the national anthem and creating a national stir. He didn’t kill dogs though, but he also doesn’t have the same natural talent as Vick.
I can’t stand how the NFL just allows people to get away with these crimes.
I’m a big believer in people deserving second chances. From articles I’ve read throughout the last two weeks, Vick says he is a changed man. He has done work in favor of animal rights since his release. Sure, he doesn’t deserve to be remembered for only the worst thing he’s ever done.
He can have a second chance. Heck, the NFL handed him a second chance once already on a silver platter. Now Vick can live his plush life in peace and riches.
However, putting him on a national stage and calling him a role model — he doesn’t deserve that ever again.
But in the NFL, “the greater your athletic ability is, the less your character sometimes has to be,” and that’s one of the ugliest truths.
Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor of The Tribune.