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Sunday, November 25, 2007
 
Vick, Bonds and the Questionable Pursuit of Justice

Now that Michael Vick sits in a jail cell and appears to be slowly losing all the money he has rightly earned over the past few years, is it time to talk about some of the more troubling aspects of the story? By all accounts, if you can put aside the dog fighting violations for a minute, and maybe you can’t or shouldn’t, Vick was one of those superstar athletes who really cared about those less fortunate and worked to make things better in the communities like the one he grew up in. He was certainly a joy to watch. Without question, he made a serious error in judgment and did wrong. But those involved in this field of sports law might be ready to discuss some of the issues his prosecution and conviction raise.

First, where were Vick’s advisors: his agent, his attorneys, his friends, teammates and coaches? Surely some of these people knew he was involved in this activity and either turned the other way or encouraged his belief that there were no consequences for an athlete of his stature for such conduct. Too often, those close to stars like Vick are obsessed with staying close to stars like Vick, so much so they are afraid to tell the man what he may not want to hear. Vick grew up in the projects of Newport News, Virginia, a crime-ridden area known as BadNewz. As he told an interviewer, “When I was 10 or 11, I would go fishing even if the fish were not biting just to get out of there.” Vick now is one of the all too many African American young men imprisoned in this country, though it appeared he had escaped such a future. No matter how passionate you feel about the plight of animals, that is a human tragedy.

Second, many of us have been surprised to learn that this culture of dog fighting is fairly widespread. Some 50,000 Americans apparently are involved in the activity. Internet sites and numerous books promote and cater to what many call the “sport.” Apparently, many a small town Southern sheriff knew where and when the dog fights were and did nothing to stop them. Yet the United States Justice Department saw the necessity to get involved and prosecute Michael Vick. This is the same Bush/Gonzalez Justice Department which spent four years and millions of dollars to indict Barry Bonds, another prominent African American millionaire athlete, the same Justice Department which had trouble telling the truth when testifying before Congress about the way it conducts its business, the same Justice Department that had an interest in moving the Administration’s numerous failures off the front page.

Why Vick? Maybe he was just doing the wrong thing at the wrong time and the Feds had no choice but to prosecute him when they learned of his criminal activity while executing a search warrant on unrelated matters. Maybe the Feds also had little choice but to prosecute Bonds once they believed he committed perjury, even if the conduct he refused to admit had occurred was not a crime and had obviously been committed by numerous others including the white player who supposedly “saved” baseball.

All I know is that the prosecution of either of these splendid athletes gives me no joy, as it apparently does for some in the media and others who love to see superstars brought down to size.





15 Comments:

I don't get any joy out of it either, but Vick was neck deep in dogfigthing and do you really expect the Feds to turn a blind eye to dog torture because its done other places with apparent impunity?
And, all Bonds had to do was tell the truth and he'd be signing a big contract for next season. Lie in court, pay the price. Its actually quite simple.

Blogger Joe -- 11/24/2007 11:31 PM  


If Bonds and Vick were not African AMerican they would not be facing these charges/punishment. And while they committed despicable acts (Vick) and technically may have broken a law (Bonds), and while in Vick's case those around him should have tried to stop him, the Bush/Gonzalez Justice Department is in no position to seek punishment for others considering the disgrace that the Justice Department has now become.

Anonymous frank -- 11/25/2007 9:41 AM  


I agree with Alan wholeheartedly. These prosecutions appear to be politically motivated by a justice department that has had its share of very public "black eyes" recently.

That Vick is going to do time in federal prison, while most first time offenders of the same crimes rarely go to prison (this, according to the US Attorney prosecuting the case), is a shame. Why is he doing time when most similar offenders receive a combination of fines, community service and probation? You have to think it's because of the high profile nature of the case, as well as the public sentiment towards dogs and Vick. We, as a nation, love our dogs. For all of his talent, accomplishments and highlight reel plays, it seems that we never fully embraced Michael Vick. Whether the criticisms were because of his "thuggish" appearance, his non-traditional style of play, the vast amount of money he made, or even possibly (though I do want to leave this out of the discussion for now) his race, Vick has always been subjected to a great deal of national public scrutiny.

As for Bonds, the glee that many in the media have taken with this indictment is sickening. These people act like Barry personally injured them and is finally facing charges for it. Further, why would the federal government go after Bonds for perjury in a case where they won? They needed Bonds testimony to indict the BALCO guys. Well, without his testimony, they got the indictment, and all the principals in the case have already served their prison time. At this point, what good does Bonds' prosecution serve, other than the political gains from trying to take down a controversial public figure.

Too often, people in this country bemoan the way the rich get preferential treatment from our justice system. If their concerns are valid, why aren't people equally concerned when high profile people are hung out to dry for political gain? Both scenarios are abuses of the justice system.

Finally, in response to the previous comment about Bonds: There are two possible scenarios to consider: First, let's assume that he did lie in court, and he did knowingly use steroids. If that was the case, Bonds certainly faced a Catch-22 in court. Yes, he had immunity, but he must have suspected that such a revelation in his grand jury testimony would not remain secret for long -- which turned out to be a correct assumption. So if he tells the truth, it will eventually come out that he admitted to using steroids, and the public outcry would be so great that he would be effectively blacklisted from the game. If he lies, he can still deny the allegations until the feds come after him, which was far from a certainty.

Now, let's look at scenario two, where Bonds did not knowingly take steroids. In this case, his testimony is the truth and he hasn't done anything wrong. Because public perception is that he took steroids, does not make it a fact that he took steroids. And even if he did, his testimony is still truthful if he didn't know exactly what he was taking.

From these scenarios, it's clear that Bonds' dominant strategy in testifying was to deny knowingly using steroids. If he's lying, any consequences will be a few years down the line, and it will be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he lied. If he's telling the truth, he has no reason to admit to informed steroid use. Frankly, he would have been stupid to take any other course of action.

Blogger William -- 11/25/2007 11:39 AM  


And how about the familiar tune that only Bonds refused to tell the truth under oath. Mark McGuire was called before Congress and under oath was asked whether he took steroids. He refused to answer without reprisal.

Blogger alan milstein -- 11/25/2007 12:42 PM  


I have enjoyed this blog for a while, but sometimes you all put out some absolute crap.

"Now that Michael Vick sits in a jail cell and appears to be slowly losing all the money he has rightly earned over the past few years..."

He might have rightly earned the money he earned playing (as opposed to bonuses contingent on performance), but he is choosing to invest his vast financial assets into his legal defense for actions in which he chose to engage. So he is rightly spending it as well.

"Vick was one of those superstar athletes who really cared about those less fortunate and worked to make things better in the communities like the one he grew up in."

The executives at Enron gave millions to charity too... it doesn't make anyone any less accountable.

"First, where were Vick’s advisors: his agent, his attorneys, his friends, teammates and coaches? Surely some of these people knew he was involved in this activity and either turned the other way or encouraged his belief that there were no consequences for an athlete of his stature for such conduct."

Well, Vick's agent, Joel Segal, manages several clients, and Segal's role is traditionally more hands off in order to focus on financial opportunities for his many clients who he is forced to assume will abide by the law and act responsibly. I think it's a stretch to think that Vick had attorneys on call before this, and even if they did, I don't know why they would know. Vick's friends were involved in the enterprise, his teammates aren't going to snitch on the team superstar, and the coaches were brand new and had not yet built a solid relationship with Vick.

"Vick now is one of the all too many African American young men imprisoned in this country..."

True, but your allusion in this statement that Vick's race is relevant to his situation is made, as usual, without any indication of prejudice in his case. Please save this argument for individuals who are not so clearly guilty.

"Second, many of us have been surprised to learn that this culture of dog fighting is fairly widespread. Some 50,000 Americans apparently are involved in the activity. Internet sites and numerous books promote and cater to what many call the “sport.”"

I am not prepared to call a regional activity that 0.0167% of the American population is involved in "widespread".

At this point, your argument devolves into a complete baseless red herring argument about the Justice Department's motivations for convicting Vick, making strong condemnations almost in passing without giving any evidence or support for your claims. Never mind that local state and county officials were also working on their own cases against Vick.

"All I know is that the prosecution of either of these splendid athletes gives me no joy, as it apparently does for some in the media and others who love to see superstars brought down to size."

It gives me no joy, either, to watch the downfall of Michael Vick. But as a football fan and dog lover, I definitely have no remorse. For every Michael Vick, there are 10 other superstars that learn how to adapt to the spotlight, and they deserve every benefit they get from it. I don't think people enjoy bringing celebrities down to earth, but I do feel that they get defensive when people they idolize as being nearly perfect fall from grace in such a rapid manner.

Blogger Slims -- 11/25/2007 1:22 PM  


These unfortunate situations are results of the country we live in and the "great" servitude that our government is doing for us...Yeah right. There are so many other ways to attack these problems (dog fighting, steroids, etc.)but our beloved red, white, and blue doesn't care about those. Vick and Bonds are nothing more than black men who the government considers incidental costs. The government continues to play this mind game with it's citizens mainly throught the media. I leave you with two things. First, Do not believe everything the media says. Second, although far-fetched, it is ironic how Jordan Vander Sloot is all of a sudden a suspect again, while the media has all to quick forgotten about the Bush administration's involvement in the CIA Leak. Press secretary drops info--Arrest Jordan Vander Sloot. War in Iraq still going bad--Arrest Michael Vick; Indict Bonds.

Anonymous Michael H. -- 11/25/2007 2:15 PM  


This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Kate -- 11/25/2007 8:17 PM  


The disregard these men had for the law is unfortunate and untimately the cause for their prosecution. The DOJ is not responsible.

Anonymous Kate Steiner -- 11/25/2007 8:19 PM  


Unfortunately Kate, the DOJ is responsible. In the Vick case, while they are certainly not responsible for Mr. Vick's violations of the law (and I hope that nothing I've said leads anyone to think that these men have no personal culpability for their actions), they are 100% responsible for how the case was prosecuted. I'm not saying they should not have brought the charges against Vick, but they should not subject Vick to more stringent punishment than a similar offender because he is a public figure.

As for Bonds, please name me another case where a US attorney convened a grand jury (and extended it multiple times) and indicted one of his own witnesses for perjury when he got a conviction. It's not like they really needed Bonds to make their case anyway. Did he commit perjury? Maybe. It's a very hard thing to prove even if he did. But clearly the reason they are going after Bonds is because he is a controversial public figure. How is it worth their time and resources to go after him on such a difficult thing to prove otherwise? Lots of relatively minor offenses go prosecuted every day -- it's called prosecutorial discretion (here's a great discussion of the politics involved in prosecutorial discretion: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3975/is_200507/ai_n14684182). Because a crime may have been committed, does not always make it worthwhile to prosecute.

Blogger William -- 11/25/2007 8:49 PM  


Interesting stuff. There seems to be a commonly-held belief that "public figures are not above the law". In other words, if high profile people break the law, then they must be treated just like everybody else in society...as Joe said in the first comment, "Lie in court, pay the price." But what's ironic is that, while we say we want equal treatment for them under the law, in actuality we treat them different under the law. The feds would not be seeking 30 years in prison if some V.P. for Coca-Cola lied under oath about snorting coke (no pun intended) or having "sexual relations" with an intern.

Indeed, we go out of our way to catch public figures involved in bad and/or illegal acts and we want them to pay to the fullest extent possible under the law. I think part of that sentiment arises out of a belief that high profile people (unlike everybody else in society) can get away with just about anything and can buy their way out of any legal problem. So even if we can't get them for doing something illegal (like having sexual relations with an intern or spreading some cream on their bodies), we still want them to be caught in some other way. In fact, it seems to give us satisfaction when we catch them because when we catch them, it gives us satisfaction knowing that they are not getting away with something....as Joe says, "all Bonds had to do was tell the truth" (which obviously assumes that there is no dispute about what the truth is). Why does the media insist upon showing clips of Brittany Spears proceed through a red traffic light, or chastise Lindsey Lohan for being in rehab? Apparently, we want to see them get caught.

Complain all you want as a fan that players are paid too much, that Bonds should be banned from the Hall of Fame and ousted by the league, that baseball should have done something about steroids, etc. etc. Let the media complain along with you, and let the media hound Spears and Lohan if the sheep want to buy it. But when the govt. prosecutes a high profile person for doing something that they wouldn't otherwise prosecute you and I for doing, we all need to be extremely concerned and scrutinize whether the punishment fits the crime.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 11/25/2007 9:49 PM  


I get really sick of people using the "race card" as a feeble excuse for all their problems. The simple fact is that Vick not only broke the law by engaging in the arena of dogfighting, but also went above and beyond human decency by inflicting cruel and dispicable acts upon innocent animals. He showed no regard for the life of another living creature...man's best friend. I don't care if the s.o.b. is black, white, or purple, he should suffer the same fate as he inflicted. He should be punished to the fullest extent of the law (and then some), not because he is famous and certainly not because he is black, but because he is a piece of crap who should pay for his actions. Someone should throw water on him and electrocute him as he deemed suitable for another living being. I am sure that he will be judged and sentenced appropriately whether by the judicial system or by fellow inmates. Carma, baby!

Anonymous Anonymous -- 11/25/2007 11:51 PM  


Anon,

I'm assuming your comment is not directed towards me, because I didn't mention race or the color of anybody's skin. The eye for an eye mentality, which I am not a proponent of, is nonetheless a view held by many. But what you're advocating actually goes beyond an eye for an eye -- because it involves a person for a dog.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 11/26/2007 8:24 AM  


Fascinating, passionate discussion here, folks. The one thing I'd add is that since the dawn of man, authority figures have used, often brutally, the power of deterrent. Hang one law breaker/ religious nut/ political opponent high in the public square, and you'll convince a thousand not to do the same thing. There's a sherrif in this town, mister! So keep quiet and toe the line.

When a drunk driver or drug dealer gets a tough sentence, the police chief and minister of justice solemnly yet proudly tell us on TV that they're sending a message.

When the teacher tells Johnny to go stand in the corner with a dunce cap on his head, she's sending a message.

When a judge gives a wrongdoer a "slap on the wrist," newspaper columnists and radio hosts wail that there's lawlessness in this town, and that they're sending the wrong message! We see this stuff everyday folks.

I am happy that Michael Vick and his associates are going to jail. Great, now we can go after the other 49,997 white, black and purple S.O.B.'s

ps: the moment Mark McGuire took the fifth amendment, he stopped being a hero. But atleast it happened quickly.

Blogger Jets Forever -- 12/02/2007 7:12 AM  


There is no proof that Mark McGwire took any illegal substances. NO PROOF. They tried, and could not find any evidence. He took androstenedione which was no made illegal until the US Senate passed a bill 10-8-04 #2195 and President Bush signed it. Unitl that date, it could be manufactored, sold and taken. This is long after Mark had retired from MLB.

This is pretty much a hit piece on any white person you can think of. Bonds lied, so did Martha Stweart, so did President Clinton (remember he was impeached). Keifer Sutherland got 2 months for a DUI while on probation. Brandy, got zero after causing the death of a man due to her hitting him into traffic.

Vick was not that generous. They have not provided any financial records (IRS) that report his donations. There was one--after the VA Tech disaster, Vick took the time for a photo op with a check for $10,000! This from a man that was making $100 million! My family donated $10,000 for the Katrina victims and we don't even make $100,000 per year. So please, check you facts on his generosity.

Blogger elena -- 12/10/2007 2:21 AM  


Elena, let me add that Martha Stweart did do time as well (six months, I believe, in a federal prison) and is now out.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/12/2008 10:05 PM  


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