Bob Franken

The Michael Vick Schtick


I had vowed to not write about Michael Vick because I didn’t want to be like everyone else who began by saying “I am a dog lover, but—”

Well you know the old saying “Promises are made to be broken”. So: I am a huge dog lover but— I had no idea what to make of Michael Vick’s return to the NFL.

This is not about my deep attachment to puppies, particularly mine. Nor is it about my conflict because, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, I’m guilty of being a professional football fan. So I don’t plan to boycott.

I don’t know if I will be able to tolerate the stench of Vick’s despicable cruelty but I’m definitely not able to ignore the foul odor of his PR campaign.

It is brilliant in a truly garbagey way. A primer on how public opinion can be manipulated.

While Vick was still serving his sentence his attorney Billy Martin, was methodically planning for his full return from exile.

Martin is one of the very best at not only protecting a client’s legal rights but rescuing his image. So step number one: Turn to Judy Smith.

Judy Smith is a genius when it comes to the crisis managing of public perceptions. She often works hand in glove with Billy Martin.I had been exposed to their every clever ways when I covered them in 2001, as they represented the parents of Chandra Levy promoting relentless war against then-Congressman Gary Condit.

The parents were desperately seeking to keep alive any shred of innuendo that he had murdered the young former intern and lover. To my shame, I spent the entire pre-9/11 summer getting on the air with every rumor and flimsy suspicion.

This time, we knew who was guilty. This time Martin and Smith had to convince the angry population that once Vick left the prison world he could re-enter the football world, with its own hyper-sensitivity to tarnish.

So far, the plan has proven to be brilliantly successful even as it has been darkly transparent.

The first predictable move was to recruit someone from the small world of the NFL, whose personal story is one of amazing dignity and historic accomplishment, whose commitment is to reach out to help those most unlike him.

Tony Dungy, just retired, the first African-American Head Coach to win a Super Bowl, a man who had let the world share his private agony when his son died, has never stopped pursuing personal his belief in human redemption.

It was easy to understand why he would agree to be Michael Vick’s mentor and how effective from a PR point of view his mere presence would be seated next to Vick as he sought another chance.

Next, turn for support to a man who had condemned Vick’s treatment of dogs the most. That was when nearly everyone was shunning him. Now Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the United States saw a new opportunity: Use the fallen Michael Vick as a symbol against cruelty to animals.

This would obviously be controversial. First Pacelle had to secretly meet Vick, then convince his executive board that Vick had sincerely learned his lesson. After intense arguments the members agreed. The Humane Society and Vick would become wary partners.

Next up, help the league do what it really wanted to do, which is welcome back the pariah because he could be really good for business.

Then school the owner who really wanted Vick the most on appearing conflicted. That’s why we witnessed the Philadelphia Eagles owner so openly thrashing around with his animal loving conscience. It was quite a show.

Then there was that other show in the formula. That’s “60 Minutes” of course. To play it safe, Michael Vick’s handlers saw to it was a sportscaster who would appear to batter him with tough questions.

They were not only tough but easy to anticipate. Vick had an easy time expressing his deep remorse because he had an easy time remembering his lines. Now he can play football and see how long everyone really expects him to demonstrate he’s a changed man. Thanks to such a finely orchestra campaign, the performance worked.

What’s left is his performance on his newly regained football field. How well he does there will be the main factor in determining how much people will forgive and forget.

I probably will ask my Golden Retriever’s understanding as I continue to attend the games. I’ll rationalize being there for the Philadelphia contests so I can boo Michael Vick and the Eagles. That’s not a big deal, because, as a Redskins fan, I boo the Eagles with or without Vick. It’s no dilemma. don’t need a high priced PR team to help me pretend that it is.

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