Not Every Ex-con Gets The Vick Treatment

August 23, 2009|By DAN RODRICKS

Because of his celebrity - or infamy - and because of his tremendous athletic skills, and because potentially millions of dollars are at stake, Michael Vick is being treated the way few convicted felons are treated in the United States: He's been given a second chance, and readily so.

This one-time leader of a cruel dog-fighting ring might be the subject of ridicule and scorn. He might have lost everything in bankruptcy and spent 18 months in a federal prison. But, relatively speaking, he's being treated like a king.

The Vickster hasn't had to endure a long, degrading hunt for a job. You won't find him hanging out at a temp agency hoping for day work. He hasn't been homeless. He might not be the most beloved figure on the American scene, but he hasn't exactly experienced spirit-crushing rejection, either.

In a way, he's as much now a privileged American athlete as he was before the cops raided Bad Newz Kennels.

Vick got out of prison in May and did some additional time on home confinement. By July, the commissioner of the National Football League had lifted his suspension. A couple of weeks ago, the Philadelphia Eagles signed him to a contract that could be worth up to nearly $7 million. He's eligible to play football and, according to a report, Vick's replica Eagles jersey, retailing for $79.99, was the top seller on NFLShop.com last week.

Nice work if you can get it, and he got it.

And it's not a bad thing. He did his time, he paid his dues. Those who have spoken to him, starting with the owner of the Eagles, found Vick to be sincere in his remorse and deserving of another shot.

So the Michael Vick story is being held up as an example of how forgiving we Americans are - that we believe in second chances and all that good stuff.

If only it were true. For every Michael Vick, there are 1,000 guys whose felony convictions haunt them for months, even years. I've got stacks of letters, e-mails and a few thousand phone calls as evidence - American adults, mostly black men between 25 and 45 years old, who can't catch a break in the job market.

Here's the latest one - Nicholas Braxton. His aunt, Felicia Womble, wrote me the same day the Eagles signed Michael Vick to his two-year deal:

"My nephew is 21 years old, smart, bright and funny. He is a good boy with one exception, he stole a TV while working at BJ's, was found guilty and is now labeled a felon because of the cost of the TV. Now his life is ruined and I feel horrible for him and his family.

"He goes to school (Bowie State), has no children, goes to church, but he cannot catch a break because of this thing he did when he was 18 years old. I am so frustrated and saddened by this. IT FEELS AS IF HIS LIFE IS OVER!

"I know that he did wrong, but does he have to suffer for the rest of his life? In spite of all that he is going through, he remains prayerful and pleasant and is a good kid. If you know of anyone in the Prince George's or Anne Arundel County areas that is willing to help a young man to get on his feet, would you please pass on his resume for us?"

I have a list, compiled over the past four years, of Maryland companies that once reported to inmate advocacy groups and service agencies that they were willing to hire ex-offenders. Unfortunately, the number of calls I receive from ex-offenders looking for work far outpaces the number of calls from employers open to hiring them.

Experts familiar with the specific problem of ex-offenders and employment believe it worsened in the aftermath of Sept. 11, when all security thresholds became more difficult to cross, and some companies declared prohibitions against hiring adults with criminal records. In our heightened fear of terrorists, we made it harder for convicted felons to re-enter society with some real chance of going straight. Things have gotten worse in the recession.

So, please, don't try to hold the matter of Michael Vick up as an example of our uniquely American spirit of forgiveness and belief in second chances. This is no more than another example of the way we treat super-athletes, no matter what they do - with special privileges and millions of dollars.

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