- Mark Kreidler, Page 2
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If you're looking for NFL precedent in the Michael Vick case, it's already there. What Roger Goodell has made clear is that he isn't so big on waiting for the legal system to spit out a winner or loser before making his own decisions about who plays in his league and how soon.
But that's not to say the Vick case can't yet establish some new ground. It can. It just might not relate so specifically to football.
Somewhere out there, there is a commissioner not named Goodell, who might or might not have a superstar indictment of his own to deal with relatively soon. And how Goodell handles the Vick issue might well flatten the grass for Bud Selig to walk through when it comes -- if it ever comes -- to Barry Bonds and the Deathly Hallowed Record.
Two leagues, two sports, two absolutely distinct mind-sets. But one joining factor: Superstars drive the games we pay to watch. Vick and Bonds couldn't have less in common, except that one is under federal indictment, the other someday might be and each is enormously well-known in his respective sport. As much a follower as baseball has been over the years when it comes to handling crimes and misdemeanors, as Vick goes, so might go Bonds.
I have no trouble believing that Selig, whose ties to Henry Aaron extend through the days of the Milwaukee Braves, has essentially been waiting for a federal indictment of Bonds to provide him a means of invalidating Bonds' pursuit of Aaron's all-time home run record. Now, the Vick case -- and Goodell's response to it -- could smooth that process.
Through Chris Henry, Terry "Tank" Johnson and Adam "Pacman" Jones, Goodell has already established the notion that he doesn't consider it necessary to wait for the legal process to run its full course. Jones, in particular, was suspended for the upcoming season without being found guilty in a court of law. In other words, the fact that Vick is only under indictment -- and hasn't yet been convicted of anything -- doesn't necessarily mean business as usual. Goodell could suspend him pending further investigation or simply sideline him indefinitely and then wait for the players union to appeal and see how it all unfolds.
In any event, everyone understands that Vick is a significant test of the tough-love theory Goodell is espousing, which might be why Selig and his people will watch so intently from a distance. Vick is no Jones; he's one of the NFL's most marketed products and one of the game's most recognized players. As with Bonds, that recognition is often both the good news and the bad. As with Bonds, it feels like there's a lot on the line.
Unlike some of the other issues to come before Goodell, Vick could be considered a first-time "offender" of the NFL's protocols, and it's always possible that Goodell will use that logic as a means of doing nothing for a while and letting the legal case move along. There haven't been many readings of the commissioner so far that would suggest such a strategy; but, then again, there hasn't been a player of Vick's magnitude involved before. We shall see what we shall see.
And Bonds? He was reportedly on the verge of federal indictment last year, and here in July 2007, still nothing. The San Francisco grand jury is actually set to wrap up its term in the immediate future, perhaps as early as the end of this week. Prosecutors could ask that the term be extended, or they could do nothing, or they could wait until well, it's anybody's guess, really. All we know for sure is that there's a man, Greg Anderson, who has been jailed twice for failing to testify before a grand jury that's investigating Bonds, and all the while a federal indictment has not materialized.
Selig was surely hoping to see such a turn of events -- either that, or hoping the whole thing would float away on a sea of smiley-faced bubbles (All is well! Nothing to see here!), with no indictment returned and nothing, in the end, officially "proved." The baseball commissioner has studiously avoided any commitment to being anywhere near Bonds when home runs Nos. 755 and 756 are struck. But you have to know he'd jump to the work desk immediately if the feds decided it was time for Bonds to answer to charges of perjury or tax evasion.
Or whatever, really. Selig has been looking for an out on the Bonds issue seemingly forever. He might well have moved to suspend Bonds immediately upon indictment without an NFL forerunner establishing the trend. But if the Vick case, which falls to Goodell to handle, becomes a contemporary yardstick for such things, so much the better for Bud. After all, to borrow the defense of some members of the pro-Bonds camp, if everybody's doing it, how wrong can it really be?
Mark Kreidler's book "Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland", published by HarperCollins, is in its third printing. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, Kreidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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