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Ted Green: Michael Vick has every right to play in the NFL

July 28, 2009 |  6:58 pm

Michael Bonnie the floppy-eared Great Dane lived in our fraternity house at UCLA and sat outside lecture halls patiently waiting for me. I loved her with all my soul. At the end, she was wracked with displasia, and I didn't have the heart to drive her to the vet, so the vet came to our home

I cried inconsolably when, lying on her favorite blanket, she gently went to sleep with her head in my lap.

Later, Lucy the Border Collie rolled around with our kids in the snow in Chicago; Lucy was smarter than several of my previous news directors. And today, Sara the Old English Bulldogge sleeps in my bed. All our dogs have.

That's how we treat dogs in my neighborhood.

That said, no matter how much you love animals and no matter how disturbing and cruel his behavior was, it is unconscionable and indefensible to take the position that Michael Vick has somehow lost the right to play, and perhaps even thrive again, in the NFL.

As America's poster boy for animal cruelty, an example to all, he served nearly two years in a federal penitentiary. He did his time, according to our criminal justice system. He paid his debt. Therefore, he has every right to re-integrate into the work force and ply his chosen craft.

In other words, he has every right to play.

And while the NFL feels it must carefully manage its image in maybe the trickiest situation to come along in, like, forever, suspending Vick for four or five games to start the 2009 season is public relations and political correctness taken a little too far to the extreme.

It is also a form of double jeopardy, convicting a man twice for the same crime. But you understand why Roger Goodell did it. He has corporate sponsors and an enormous fan base to pacify. Many of those fans love dogs.

Message sent, message received.

Now if you listen to talk radio, you'll hear a lot of angry, venemous anti-Vick calls suggesting that all he deserves based on what he did is a minimum-wage Joe job stacking shelves in a home improvement store. But truth is, the argument that the convicted dog abuser isn't fit for a high-paying opportunity in the NFL is as un-American as Vick's actions were stupid and inhumane.

Vick is a football player. It is his chosen profession. It's his line of work and likely the only thing he's any good at. How much the NFL pays is how much it pays. Vick doesn't set the prices. If it's six figures, and if he's lucky enough to find a team to take him and the p.r. nightmare he represents, then that's what his salary will be. Even if it's seven figures, how much he earns can't change his karma or clear his conscience.

Personally, I can't begin to understand how Vick or anyone else could do what they did to those poor dogs in the Bad Newz Kennels, bad newz being the understatement of the millenium. I don't buy the cultural argument, either. You know, that's how they do it where we live. That shouldn't be how they do it no matter where you live. Anyone with a shred of kindness or decency has to know better than to strangle, electrocute, drown or beat to death helpless animals for their own selfish and disgusting profit and pleasure.

Still, now that he's back on the outside again, this is Vick's time to see what he's learned, to find out if he really has changed, and how much. At the same time, presumably on a very public stage, we will find out if he has the heart and smarts to make what was so terribly wrong, right again. Or at least mitigate some of the damage.

One more chance, one last chance, to serve as a different kind of poster boy, the one representing one of our oldest and greatest American virtues, the Second Chance.

-- Ted Green

Green formerly covered sports for the L.A. Times. He currently owns Buddy the stone-deaf Border Collie and Sara the Olde English Bulldogge.

Photo: Michael Vick. Credit: Jason Hirschfield / Associated Press