August 17, 2007

Vick: To Plea Or Not to Plea

It's obvious, right? Michael Vick has to take any plea deal that will get him less than 18 months in prison, considering he's facing 3 times that, plus a fine, plus racketeering charges that will be sent to a grand jury on Monday. He'd be a fool not to take a plea bargain, right?

Consider this. If you're a Vick supporter, and you're black, and you take everything you read in the light most favorable to Vick, you have to think he's getting railroaded. The Surry County Commonwealth's Attorney, a Virginia official, has been steadily investigating the crime for state charges. That man happens to be black, and happens to have strong ties to the Civil Rights Movement in southeast Virginia. Along come the Feds, under a law strengthened just this past May, and suddenly Vick and alleged co-conspirators are indicted in the federal court's most "efficient" district.

bblahbla Nike's "Michael Vick Experience" ad campaign is suddenly less appealing

Then the one co-conspirator who Vick allegedly had a falling out with ago two years flips and turns Feds' evidence. That pressures the other two, who know their only leverage is what they can give the Feds on Vick, the alleged kingpin and financier. Now Vick's facing three witnesses who are only out to save their own hides. Then the Feds come along and say, "oh by the way, plead guilty or we're adding racketeering charges which carry a 20-year sentence."

If Vick enters a guilty plea, what Vick supporter will ever believe he's actually guilty? He's been forced into a corner by a combination of the Feds and his own former friends. Typically, the sentiment is that an innocent man never pleads guilty, but that comes from the natural trust we have in the criminal justice system, and that natural trust is different for blacks than it is for whites. In many people's experience, an innocent man with a good attorney has a 99+% chance of being acquitted. In some parts of the country, that same level of confidence has to be below 80% for black defendants.

So if Vick pleads guilty, we're going to have another O.J. divide along racial lines. There will be exceptions on both sides, but most whites will think he's guilty as hell and got away with as little jail time as possible. Most blacks will think he got screwed by the government, and they'll point to a long line of other cases with the same unfair result.

On the other hand, if he ever wants to play football again he has to take the plea bargain. If he is guilty, and the trial is as ugly and nasty and I suspect it would be, the NFL could never let him on the field again. More importantly to the NFL, some upstart league would LOVE to let him on the field again. Goodell has to be pushing Vick into a plea agreement with both hands.

So we're all screwed. We either have to live with another racially dividing incident caused by our not-exactly-colorblind criminal justice system, or we have to live with daily SportsCenter coverage of a gruesome trial. Given how the Bonds, Donaghy and Vick incidents are playing out, I have to think Vick is now taking the cake.

And, yes, I understand this isn't "A Time to Kill" or "Mississippi Burning", but the fact that Vick is an NFL superstar, and at a position where blacks have suffered the most discrimination (save head coach and GM), makes it all the more polarizing. The NFL is one of the few aspects of American society where we all really do get along, black, white, hispanic or anything else. You won't see the ridicule the NBA endured after it's weekend in Las Vegas turned out like just about any other weekend in Las Vegas, and you won't see the irrational hatred of players, largely due to race, like you see of MLB players like Bonds. When Ray Lewis, one of my favorite players, was indicted, I became indignant. I couldn't understand how the Atlanta DA couldn't grasp that Lewis clearly had nothing to do with it. In that respect, I see where Vick supporters are emotionally right now.

If you think I'm wrong, tell me. If you think I'm right, tell me that too. If Vick enters a plea agreement early next week, we'll never know the answers, but only the aftermath.

5 Responses:

Sebastian said...

Hey--I actually do agree with you! Not sure if all whites will think that he's escaped with as little jail time as possible--just those that belong to PETA.

I like your phrase on an innocent man with a good attorney. Vick could have fit the bill, had he been innocent.

Anonymous said...

You had me until you said "and you won't see the irrational hatred of players, largely due to race, like you see of MLB players like Bonds."

White people don't hate Barry because he's black. They hate him because he's a cheater and an asshole. If Ken Griffey had just broken Hank Aaron's record, everyone would be cheering.

Otherwise, great analysis.

J-Red said...

Umm, Mark McGwire, Bret Boone, Brady Anderson, Jason Giambi, Ken Caminiti. Those guys aren't hated, and McGwire and Caminiti are/were certainly assholes.

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