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The Thoughtful Fool’s Off-Season Recap

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It has been a horrible summer for sports in general. The baseball home run record now belongs to Barry Bonds, whose head has replaced Pluto as our ninth planet. They have the same problem over in France where the Tour de France is now a race to be the fastest cyclist who doesn’t get caught. David Beckham came to L.A. because their narcissism reserve fell slightly when Paris Hilton went to jail and they aren’t going to let that happen again. Over in the NBA, the worst possible scandal a sport can endure is going on featuring the mob and a point shaving ref — think of the 1919 Black Sox but with 24/7 ESPN coverage and 50,000 bloggers shouting at the top of their lungs. Kevin Costner will not be building a basketball court in his cornfield anytime soon. Despite all that, we have survived and reached the dog days of August. But let’s leave Michael Vick for last (snicker).

For the NFL, this has been the summer of bad behavior. To get a sense of the nature and frequency of bad behavior among NFL personnel, I recommend you to ProFootballTalk.com’s Turd Watch, where Mike Florio has a very simple system for tracking miscreant activities. A felony arrest is good for 7 points, a misdemeanor arrest is good for 3, and a conviction on either causes another point to be tacked on. Multiple charges count separately and the points stack. Points are then accrued to the appropriate team.

As of this writing, the Fins have had a stellar offseason with 68 points, head and shoulders above their cross state counterparts, the Jags, at 42. Interestingly, the Bengals — the poster boys for bad behavior last year — are merely above average with 22. The average is 11.7 per team, or pretty close to one convicted felony and misdemeanor per team. Bear in mind, this is only since the Super Bowl, so a bit over six months time. Nasty boys.

There were a few scandals that, in a typical year, would have been the dominant news stories of the off season:

• Tank Johnson, late of the Chicago Bears, secured himself an 8-game suspension based on an pretty solid litany of destruction. While on probation from a misdemeanor handgun charge, he got himself arrested outside a nightclub after scuffling with a cop, then he was arrested again when his house was raided and a cache of unlicensed firearms was found. Shortly afterward he was “hanging out” at a “night club” with a known felon when said felon got in an argument with an unknown third party. The third party shot and killed the felon. At this point, it occurred to someone that having unlicensed firearms and hanging out with felons was a violation of Tank’s parole. Tank did a couple of months of hard time. Upon his release he promptly got pulled over at 3:30 am for speeding and being intoxicated by a debatable amount (.072). The Bears waived Tank and other teams aren’t exactly lining up to sign him.

• No police blotter would be complete without an appearance from a Cincinnati Bengal — you know, the team whose coach believes the players are being profiled by the police. In this case we have Chris Henry, who failed a drug test while on probation for a weapons charge in Florida. Turns out he was also serving suspended sentences in Kentucky and Ohio. That’s right, he was simultaneously on probation in one state while serving suspended sentences in two others. I can’t imagine why such a person would be profiled. Looks like Chris will be spending some time in the pokey — possibly multiple pokeys — so it’s just as well he got an 8-game suspension.

• Not to be outdone, former players were bringing their A-games to the scandal sheets too. NFL Players Association president Gene Upshaw was under fire from a slew of retired players because they believe the union hasn’t done enough to help out the old guys who didn’t have the benefits of the current players in their time. In response to one player’s criticism, Upshaw simply stated that he was going to break his damn neck if he saw him. This triggered more horrors: Mike Ditka actually attempted to engage in a serious debate and Bryant Gumbel actually managed to get more obnoxious, something I would have thought impossible. In essence the whole thing played out at roughly the same level of reason you would find in the comments at digg.com.

There were also the now standard domestic disturbances and DUIs and minor pot infractions, all of which can help your team to a Turd Watch title, but there were two pantheon level performances that stood head and shoulders above the rest. Let’s start with the walking absurdity known as Pacman Jones.

Pacman has amassed a remarkable track record going all the way back to his days at West Virginia. There’s a summary over at ESPN that details nine incidents since 2005 in which Pacman successfully found trouble. The most recent incident, on February 19 of this year, is the one that really put Pacman over the top.

We all know the story: he was at a strip club with his entourage and started showering the stage with cash ($1 bills, of course). What happened next is a matter of some contention, but it was clear that it was not Pacman’s intent that the money be kept by the strippers, because a fight broke out when he tried to get it back. One side of the story is that he tried to take it back and was attacked by a stripper. The other side is that he assaulted a stripper for trying to pick the money up. One wonders why he didn’t just spit in her face, as seems to be his policy with women.

Is it conceivable that someone would sit up near stage in a strip club and toss money at the dancers under the assumption that he could just take it back? I’m going to go out on a limb and assume this was not Pacman’s first time in a strip club. Eventually the club bouncers somehow managed to get these clowns hustled out the door, but one of the entourage came back in and started firing shots, hitting an innocent patron and crippling one of the bouncers.

Pacman’s response to his astounding record:

“Everybody keeps saying I’ve been arrested six times. I haven’t been arrested six times. I’ve only been arrested twice. I’ve been accused and people have put warrants out on me numerous other times, but as of today I’m on no probation, I haven’t been charged with anything, so I’m just keeping my head up and making sure I’m doing everything to make sure I’m alright with myself.”

Actually, charges have been pressed and lawsuits will no doubt fly. Pacman will naturally explain that he had nothing to do with anything and he just happened to be in the wrong place with the wrong people, just like all the other times. It may work, given the burdens of proof in a courtroom setting. Or he may be able to buy off enough people to avoid prosecution. What he can’t do is play that game with the NFL, which is above the law, or rather, only bound by the collective bargaining agreement, which allows Roger Goodell to suspend players for extreme dirtbaggery. So Pacman will be sitting out the year on suspension and will wisely spend his time performing good, honest, and noble acts in an effort to show contrition for his past misdeeds. Specifically, he’s going to be a professional wrestler.

No kidding. He signed up to be a professional wrestler and stated that his goal is to win the World Tag Team championship, to show what a team player he is. The Tennessee Titans, who have Pacman under contract, thought otherwise and suggested wrestling would violate Pacman’s contract. Pacman’s response:

“In the contract, nothing could possibly stop anything unless you get hurt. I don’t even look at getting hurt. That is not a worry of mine.”

Um, no. The contract forbids you from involvement in activities that might get you hurt. Not quite the same thing. But we all know folks like Pacman. He gets an idea in his alleged mind that he wants to be a wrestler, so when presented with the facts that would conflict with that, Pacman just makes up a story that covers him and declares it to be true.

So the Titans had to go to the trouble of getting a court order to prevent Pacman from wrestling. As a result, Pacman’s wrestling debut consisted of him getting jumped and sucker punched and covered in fake blood before his first match so he couldn’t enter the ring. Which begs the question: Does his entourage understand that wrestling isn’t real? I hope so, or his next wresting event may include an actual drive-by shooting.

Pacman was the most fascinating scandal of the summer. One for the ages. Of all people, Pacman brings to mind Mike Tyson: a semi-cogent personality capable of saying and doing just about anything at any time. They would be the highest in unintentional comedy if people didn’t actually get hurt (a woman raped in Tyson’s case; a man paralyzed in Pacman’s). But even Pacman couldn’t take the crown in this year’s off-season follies. The Hiroshima level scandal of the summer belonged to founder and proprietor of Bad Newz Kennels.

Mike Vick is not without his own checkered past. Snarky types such as Yours Truly still occasionally refer to him as Ron Mexico, in reference to the fake name he gave the doctor who was treating him for the herpes with which he managed to infect at least one woman. He then infamously flipped off some home town fans on his way off the field in full view of the cameras. Next he was caught by TSA with a false bottomed water bottle with a secret compartment that contained a certain “residue.” His personal charisma and flashy play have helped him out and kept most everyone — meaning the NFL, Nike, the Falcons administration — firmly in his corner, but kiss that goodbye now. Mikey is in deep, deep, deep doggie doo (snicker).

Here is a guy who not five years ago was heralded as a revolutionary force in football. No QB before him ever got more dangerous after the pocket broke down. He was a living highlight reel with moves as astounding as Michael Jordan. He was going to posterize defensive players from one end of the league to the other. Of course, the problem was that he wasn’t very good at the standard QB stuff, so defenses had plenty of cushion to make adjustments. Still a few times a year he would do something spectacular and everyone would say, “Gosh, if the Falcons could just figure out how to take advantage of his awesome skill, they’d be instant contenders.” 2007 might have been the year it happened. The plan was to allow him to free lance and audible as needed. It’s conceivable that he really could have put it all together and had the killer year everyone thought he had in him.

Now he’ll be lucky if he ever plays football again. As has been pointed out in many places, dog fighting is a federal felony. For Vick, though, it’s not. When his home was busted it was still a misdemeanor (by a couple of weeks), so the dog fighting charges aren’t that big of a problem legally. The problem is that dog fighting is the sort of thing that nobody can stomach. You think about the dog you had as a kid. You think about your loyal buddy who worshipped you for tossing a stick for him to chase down. You think about the shame you felt for yelling at him for barking at your visitors even though he was just trying to protect you. Then you read the heinous details of the life and death of fighting dogs and there can be no emotional mitigation. No one will come out and excuse it as a sickness, or a product of his upbringing, or a cultural difference, or say the dog deserved it. These people are scum.

That’s why Nike dropped Vick like a hot potato. That’s why you can no longer buy a Vick jersey. That’s why the Falcons are desperately trying to find the right way to separate themselves from Vick and recover as much of his bonus money as possible. PR-wise it is about the worst possible thing, but legally it’s not the end of the world. Legally, it’s a misdemeanor and under normal circumstances Vick could plea bargain for a fine and be free to try to rehab his rep. The real legal problem is gambling.

As you know, here at Thoughtful Fool Orbiting Headquarters, we despise gambling.

Just checking if you were still paying attention. Actually we love gambling and think it should be legal anytime, anywhere, on anything (for consenting adults who are not NBA referees). Sadly, for us and Mike, the government of these here United States disagrees rather stridently. The dog fighting charge may be legally trivial, but if it comes out the Mikey was dropping ten grand a pop on which pooch would survive, the federal prosecutor and the IRS will be salivating like Pavlov’s dogs (snicker). That could translate to sharing a cell with a 300 lb. skinhead dog lover named Turk. And when he’s done with that, the State of Virginia may want its piece of the action.

As always, the NFL has its own priorities and is not bound by things like “legality” and “due process” and “presumption of innocence.” During an private interview with Roger Goodell, Vick stated that no dog fighting was going on at his home. That was clearly a bald-faced lie. Roger doesn’t like to be lied to. That’s all he really needs to suspend Vick for a year or so and hope he drifts out of the limelight. Expect something along those lines.

So Vick will have no income from football, no income from endorsements, legal bills up the wazoo, and potential jail time. He plead not guilty to all these charges (although that may be changing), but virtually all his co-defendants are pleading guilty. That sure looks like they are setting themselves up sing like canaries for a break in sentencing. I’m not going out on too precarious of a limb to say Mike Vick is toast.

Now, there’s always a chance at a miracle. A complete exoneration of all charges. Go on Larry King and cry and beg for forgiveness. Make an enormous donation to the Humane Society. Then maybe, just maybe, you can land a spot on a roster as a low-profile sub and hope the fans are in a forgiving mood. But that’s unlikely. You see, Vick is not the type to play that game. Judging by his past and the behavior of his equally distasteful brother Marcus, who once stomped on an opposing player in the middle of a college game badly enough to get kicked out of school, the Vicks are not ones to regret and apologize. They no doubt see it as a sign of weakness, or their arrogance simply won’t allow it. Whatever bodies are left in their wake have no significance to them, they just step over them without a second thought.

Well, Michael is about to get his introduction to the concept of comeuppance. The next body to be stepped over will be his own.

What a mess, eh? All this stuff makes me yearn for the simpler days of Whizzinators and Terrell Owens (where has he been?). As for me, I’m ready for some football. So, what is coming up Real Soon Now with be some form of season preview, hopefully before the season actually starts. After that, as long time readers know, we go silent until about Week 8, when the season is in full swing, the bye weeks are almost gone, and there is a solid statistical sample to start our wagering process to function. Hypothetically of course. Gambling is illegal, and I wouldn’t want to find myself sharing a jail cell with Michael Vick. Not after what I just wrote about him.

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About David Mazzotta

  • RJ

    Ah! Welcome back Mr. Mazzotta.

    I full anticipate predicting every single game, every single week this NFL season, for the third year in a row. My goal this year is to thrash Theismann so badly in the weekly picks that he retires from ESPN with a compound fracture to his manhood. Also, I want to make Merril Hoge cry on live national television.

    I’m somewhat unsure which of these goals is more realistic.

  • Tinkerbell

    One can only hope that Vick is subject to the same treatment to which he subjected those poor dogs…fighting to the death, electrocution, rape stands, starvation, chaining, maiming. And if he ever plays again and loses? Just like what he did to his dogs, may NFL fans raise his body above their heads and slam him to the ground, ending his life.

    Even that would be too good for him.

  • I’m holding out for the news that there’s a third Vick brother, and he’s a med student or something.

    The advent of Mazzotta means the football season is near. [Single tear]

  • david mazzotta

    Poor Joe is still wandering around in a daze about being booted from the Monday night booth, now RJ is out to finish him. He’ll be wishing he for the good old days of Lawrence Taylor bearing down on him after this.

  • Thomas Robinson

    Well see how wrong you were, this thing with Michael Vick was more than just a misdemeanor. So could you have been wrong about anything else in this article and others you write.