The Michael Vick Fallout – Current and Future Impact

Today’s biggest news in sports is that Michael Vick has been sentenced to 23 months in prison for running a dogfighting operation. Although there is no parole in the federal system, with time off for good behaviour Vick could be released in the summer of 2009 at the earliest.

The impact of this news doesn’t just revolve around the NFL. The fallout is enough to impact not only sports in Atlanta, but throughout the United States, and even the world.

Vick said he accepted responsibility for his actions, but U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson said he wasn’t so sure. “I’m not convinced you’ve fully accepted responsibility,” Hudson told Vick.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has estimated that Vick has incurred financial losses of $142 million, including $71 million in Falcons salary, $50 million in endorsement income, and approximately $20 million in previously paid bonuses. Let’s go over the endorsements for a second. Vick’s endorsement contracts have included Nike, EA Sports, Coca-Cola, Powerade, Kraft, Rawlings, Hasbro, and AirTran. Over the last two years, his endorsement deals with at least six companies (Coca-Cola, EA Sports, Kraft Foods, Hasbro and AirTran) have expired, and the rest of the endorsements are now pretty much dead as well (with the exception of Nike, which hasn’t terminated the contract in entirety). All these companies did the proper thing by dropping Vick.

Prior to the dogfighting allegations, Vick was dropped by AirTran Airways. However, I don’t blame him for that move. ESPN reported on May 31, 2007 that “AirTran said Vick had ample opportunities to get to his destination on AirTran but chose not to.” I don’t blame Vick for not flying AirTran Airways. Their planes are dirty, the seats are cramped, and customer service is horrible, at best. So a personal disclaimer on my part: don’t fly AirTran Airways. Choose Delta instead.

When the federal indictment was announced in July of 2007, Vick immediately lost his biggest sponsor – Nike. Nike imediately suspended the release of its latest product line named after him, telling retailers it will not release a fifth signature shoe, the Air Zoom Vick V. Many stores, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority, have also stopped selling Vick-related goods across the nation.

But back to the fallout. After their 34-14 loss tonight to the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons are 3-10 in the 2007 season. They aren’t as bad as the Miami Dolphins (who have yet to win a game in 2007), but they aren’t that much worse, either. At least the Miami Dolphins have something to play for – winning a game in 2007. What do the Falcons have to play for? A better pick in the NFL Draft? Come on, this is a team that hasn’t recovered. It is a team that has gone through three quarterbacks in the 2007 season, none of whom has been able to deliver. And it’s not that the fans are frustrated. It’s more like they are becoming indifferent.

Checking the attendance figures at Georgia Dome this year, it looks like they are down by about 25% from last year. According to a latest survey at SI.com, Georgia Dome is now the fourth-worst stadium experience behind the 49ers’ Monster Park, the Vikings’ HHH Metrodome, and the Jets’ Giants Stadium. Sure, there are still die-hard Falcons fans out there, but the focus in Atlanta isn’t even on the Falcons anymore. For a long time, the words “Falcons” and “Michael Vick” were associated so tightly with one another; it is a sad but inevitable truth that these words are still associated together, but in a darker vibe. The other week, Warrick Dunn surpassed 10,000 yards rushing for his career. But do you think that was the lead story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution? You’re right if you said no. The focus was about Vick’s upcoming sentencing.

For the moment, the Falcons are hopeless. The fan base has shrunk. Instead of the Sunday night chatter about the latest Falcons game, people are shifting focus to the offseason discussions of the Atlanta Braves or the current season of the Atlanta Thrashers. It’s happening in a lot of homes across Atlanta, and it is something that should happen.

What about other cities across the country? The impact there is/will be less pronounced, but you can bet that all athletes are aware of Michael Vick. Right now, this given second, there is an athlete that is doing something illegal. Maybe not something as heinous as being involved in dogfighting, but something illegal nonetheless. But by looking at the cold hard facts regarding Vick’s case – that lying (to the public, to his family, to federal prosecutors) and doing something illegal is eventually going to catch up with you – rest assured that there are athletes who are now looking themselves in the mirror and ascertaining whether to drop whatever it is they can get in trouble for in the future. This has been a great year for sports, but this same sports world has also been upheaved by cheating and illegal activity (Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Michael Vick are the big names).

Said Hank Aaron of Vick’s fall from grace, “I’ve never seen someone who had so much ability and has fallen so far. It’s not what is going to happen as far as his football career is concerned. It’s just him as a man … being able to get his life back.”

In the end, it’s not even about Michael Vick. It’s how we act and react as human beings. Football, baseball, hockey – they will still remain games in the grand scheme of things. But how – and if – people (including athletes) will interpret, judge, order, structure, and change their lives around Michael Vick’s despicable acts and other cataclysmic events in sports is what will be truly important.

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~ by mlb2007playoffs on December 10, 2007.

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