Time's now for Goodell to give Vick swat on nose

To be taken seriously in hunt to clean up NFL, commissioner should take action against Michael Vick.

Published May 22, 2007

Busy guy, Roger Goodell.

So little time, so many players to suspend.

That's the problem with being the Hanging Commissioner. When a man sets out to toss the knuckleheads out of the NFL, he's in for a full day's work. It's what happens when you commission based on the philosophy of Walker, Texas Ranger.

Given the number of times an NFL roster overlaps with a police blotter, one can only imagine what Goodell's day planner looks like.

For instance, a great many people would be delighted if Goodell would begin his workday by ordering Tank Johnson out of the Chicago Bears' locker room for a year. It's an easy decision, but hey, a man has to warm up before the heavy lifting.

After that, Goodell should toss New York Jets kick returner Justin Miller, who was charged with third-degree assault after police said he struck a woman Sunday morning. If Goodell is indeed trying to make a statement, isn't that worth addressing? He could boot Joey Porter of the Dolphins. He could eject Bucs reserve Lionel Gates. Then he could swallow hard and look at the Bengals, which could keep him busy clear into the afternoon.

He could suspend Floyd Landis, just to be safe. He could suspend Pete Rose. He could suspend Ron Artest. He shouldn't suspend Tom Brady, but he should suggest that maybe a vow of celibacy is in order.

Before the day is through, however, he should get around this: He should suspend Michael Vick.

If he does not, today or soon after, Goodell is merely making noise.

So far, everyone likes what he sees from Goodell. Everyone smiles when the new sheriff kicks in the door and says he's going to clean up the town. Most of us are weary of athletes who seem to think that breaking a law is no more serious than jumping offside, and frankly, it's nice to see that a commissioner is, too.

Oh, let's be honest. Goodell might not look so decisive if the NFL players association had a spine - can you imagine what would happen if Bud Selig tried this? - and eventually, that pesky American notion of "due process" is going to get in Goodell's way. But for now, it's hard to muster outrage in the name of "Pacman" Jones or Chris Henry, who have been sent off in the general direction of a sequel for The Longest Yard.

In the end, however, neither Jones nor Henry is going to determine whether Goodell's policy works.

Which, of course, leads us back to Vick, the troubling, troubled quarterback of the Falcons.

You have to wonder how closely Goodell was paying attention Monday when investigators of Surry County, Va., met for two hours to discuss the evidence of dogfighting on Vick's property. A month ago, 66 dogs were seized, as well as evidence of the bloodsport, and although Vick has blamed relatives who were staying there, investigators have said they can place him at the fights.

At this point, you have to believe one of three things.

1. Vick is innocent, and he has the bad luck of having the worst relatives you can imagine, relatives who specially trained these dogs so that if anyone entered the front door wearing a No. 7 jersey, they were to hide in the cabinets and behind the TV, just like in Ace Ventura.

2. Silly Mike. He merely forgot about the 66 dogs on his property. He took them in as strays, out of kindness, and he was planning on giving every member of his offensive line his very own Iditarod team for Christmas. And in the meantime, have you seen his Alpo bill?

3. Vick is guilty of animal cruelty. And if so, he should be punted from the league no matter how many highlights he has been in.

Sooner or later, they are destined to meet in a room, Roger and Mike and about 417 attorneys. Has any other athlete ever squeezed so much controversy into a pair of cleats as Vick?

Over his career, Vick has been accused of everything except being a decent quarterback. He was Ron Mexico, sued by a woman who said he spread STDs. He was the guy with the water bottle with the hidden compartment (and where does one buy those?). He flipped off the home crowd. He was called a coach killer (just before his coach was fired). He has blamed an airline for missing an appointment with Congress (the airline said it made him a reservation on a later flight, only Vick didn't show).

And now this. Even Congressman Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California who loves both animals and grandstanding, is calling for Goodell to act?

If you are Goodell, don't you have to be thinking about it? There is nothing wrong with gathering information - suspending a guy in May isn't necessarily better than suspending him in, say, July - but eventually, don't you have to act?

If Goodell's first suspensions indicate anything, it is that he does not feel that he has to wait for the legal system before making his own rulings.

If his subsequent suspensions are going to mean anything, Goodell also must show that his policy doesn't waver when it comes to celebrity status.

Sooner or later, Goodell has a choice to make.

Only then will we discover how much bite his policy has.

Gary Shelton can be reached at (727) 893-8805.